Madiba 90

Madiba 'a global icon'

2008-07-15 16:03

Special Report

Mandela: SA needs good leaders

Now as much as ever, South Africa needs disciplined leaders, Nelson Mandela has said at birthday celebration in Pretoria.

Johannesburg - Nelson Mandela, who emerged from decades in prison under apartheid to become South Africa's first black president, turns 90 on Friday assured of a place in history as one of the world's great statesmen.

While he has grown increasingly frail and has limited his public appearances, his status as a global icon has only expanded thanks to his charity efforts and occasional pronouncements on world affairs.

At a concert in London last month celebrating his birthday and in support of his 46664 Aids campaign, Mandela received rapturous applause from an emotional crowd, which fell silent when he spoke.

"Where human beings are being oppressed, there is more work to be done. Our work is for freedom for all," he said.

The eyes of the world were on Mandela on February 11, 1990 when he emerged from 27 years in prison for opposing the apartheid regime.

Four years later, the prisoner became president, setting South Africa on a course toward reconciliation by restoring dignity to the black majority and reassuring whites they had nothing to fear from change.

An activist since his student days

"We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world," he declared when he became president in 1994.

Mandela, along with outgoing president FW de Klerk, won the Nobel peace prize in 1993.

Perhaps two of his finest moments as a reconciler came when he had tea with the widow of apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd and when he donned the Springboks rugby jersey to congratulate the mainly white team's victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela, affectionately known by his clan name "Madiba", was born in Mvezo village in one of South Africa's poorest regions, the Transkei. He is the great grandson of a Tembu king.

He was given his English name "Nelson" by a teacher at his school.

An activist since his student days at Fort Hare University College in the southeast, Mandela opened the first black law firm in Johannesburg in 1952, along with fellow activist Oliver Tambo.

He became commander-in-chief of Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed underground wing of the African National Congress, in 1961, and the following year underwent military training in Algeria and Ethiopia.

After more than a year underground, Mandela was captured by police and sentenced in 1964 to life in prison during the Rivonia trial, where he delivered a speech that was to become the manifesto of the anti-apartheid movement.

"During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society...

Led SA's bid to host 2010

"It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Mandela was jailed on Robben Island for 18 years before being transferred in 1982 to Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town and later to Victor Verster prison in nearby Paarl.

As international sanctions mounted, hardline President PW Botha was replaced in 1989 by the more conciliatory De Klerk, who a year later ordered Mandela's release.

Mandela embodied the hopes of his nation in April 1994 when he cast his ballot for the first time in his life.

He served only one five-year term, but later devoted his energy to mediating conflicts, including the war in Burundi.

In 1998, on his 80th birthday, Mandela, after having divorced Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, married Graca Machel, the widow of Mozambican president Samora Machel.

In Zurich in May 2004, he successfully led South Africa's bid to host the 2010 World Cup, the biggest international event to be staged in his country.

Some eight months later, he announced his only surviving son had died of Aids and appealed for openness about the disease.

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