United Nations resolution A/RES/64/13, unanimously voted in by the UN General Assembly in 2009, declared July 18, Nelson Mandela's birthday, “Nelson Mandela International Day” in recognition of Madiba's dedication and service to humanity in the form of his tireless contributions in conflict resolution, race reconciliation, human rights, children’s rights and much more. He was the father of the new South Africa that emerged after the demise of apartheid as a viable system of government in 1990. For 67 years he fought the good fight and ran the good race in combatting all threats to human dignity and respect.
The world never got the chance to see Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr live to an old age. Nor were we able to see Malcolm X mature and grow into a gray-haired senior statesman of the struggle for human rights and dignity. Each of the aforementioned men were taken from us by the bullets of assassins. However, we were able to see the closest approximation of the two individuals in the life of Nelson Mandela. A member of the Xhosa-speaking Thembu tribe, Mandela was baptized in the United Methodist Church and given the name Nelson by a teacher. As a young man, Mandela worked as a lawyer and political activist.
His evolution as a man is just as admirable as his tireless contributions. From peaceful demonstrator inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, to leader of a violent insurrection against the racist apartheid government, Nelson Mandela’s goal was always the abolition of all barriers to human dignity that blocked Black South Africans from achieving their rightful place in society. In 1964, Mandela was found guilty of leading a bombing campaign against government targets as leader of the military wing of the African National Congress and attempting to overthrow the government. He was sentenced to life in prison.
While he was incarcerated, the hold that the white minority had over the country of South Africa slowly began to loosen as both internal and international pressures exerted against the ruling class began to cause a noticeable crack in the veneer of white supremacist rule. After being released in 1990, Mandela was instrumental in helping negotiate with the nation’s white leaders for a swift and bloodless transition to democracy. He was later elected South Africa’s first black president in 1994, only serving one term. In 1993, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside then South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk for working together to end apartheid.
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy,” Mandela once said. “Then he becomes your partner.”
Nelson Mandela died on Dec. 5, 2013 at the age of 95. He was laid to rest in Qunu in the Eastern Cape.