How I Met Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

I never knew Nelson Mandela. Not personally though. All I knew was one, he was famous; two, he was the ex-president of South Africa; three, he worked hard for “something” and four, he was in a wheelchair due to “something”. Then last year out of the blue, Nelson Mandela died on December, 5th. I wasn’t shocked, nor saddened. How could I feel for someone I knew very less of? The social media was flooded that day with mourners across the globe, posting their condolences online, putting up covers of his pictures. I wondered how much they knew of the man. Did they talk about him often? Was he a friend? A role-model? Were they following up on his health? Were they praying in his last moments? I’d like to see one who did.

So, still not knowing what to feel (and I still wonder if it’s necessary to actually feel something), I fired up my laptop and googled him. Trying to avoid the long, cumbersome text on Wikipedia, I came across his timeline just published by DAWN (thank heavens!). Year by year they stated Mandela’s activities from birth till death.

Mandela turned out to be quite a man. He was a hero, known to many as Madiba, his Xhosa clan name. Nelson was the name given to him by his teacher at age 7. He had worked hard for the black community in South Africa, spoke against the Apartheid laws and had spent most of his time in jail. The longest being twenty-seven years in prison at which time his followers cried out to the government and it was a cry the authorities eventually bowed down to.

Madiba was successful in all his efforts for the people and such racist laws were abolished once and for all. He was elected president in 1994, of course.

I read through the whole article and all that came to my mind was as to how one man can go through so many hardships for the sake of the people. He was a hero among heroes. He had a voice and he made it his point in life to make himself heard. Throughout his imprisonment, he had rejected at least three conditional offers of release.[1] He was the right man at the right place at the right time. You might find it funny if I told you that I went about, “I could’ve worked to abolish Apartheid laws. Mandela you beat me to it.” However reality must be faced, that was a lot of jail time for me.

So what happened next to him? He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He cast his first vote in 1994 and was eventually elected president. He stepped down honorably in 1999 at the end of his term. He continued to work with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and established the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation. His autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom” was published in 1995. He stepped down from public life in 2004.

It was not just Apartheid laws Mandela fought against. Mandela fought a series of ailments throughout the course of his struggle.

These included Tuberculosis, cataracts and prostate cancer. In 1988, while held prisoner at Pollsmoor Prison, he contracted TB. During his 6 weeks at Tygerberg Hospital, he was treated and cured. However TB left him with damaged lungs, vulnerable to infections. In Decemeber 2012, he underwent treatment for lung infection and gall stones. In March and April 2013, he had Pneumonia. June 2013, he was admitted to Pretoria’s Mediclinic Hospital for a recurring lung infection. His condition was serious but stable. He was able to breathe on his own. He slowly became critical. 1st September, 2013 he moved to his Houghton home in Johannesburg (reconfigured to receive 24-hour intensive care from a team of 22 doctors). It was here that Mandela breathed his last and eventually departed from this world at the age of 95 on 5th December, 2013; the day I properly met Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

I only hope now that he was smiling when he left.

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.”

-Nelson Mandela



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