Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."

--Nelson Mandela

This evening, I watched the recently-made film Mandela: Long Walk to freedom, which is based on the autobiography of Nelson Mandela--one of the most important global figures of the past 50 years.  Growing up, I heard the name Nelson Mandela.  I knew he was a South African president.  I knew he was important in ending something called "apartheid."  I knew he spent time in prison.  But what this film does is put the man in the context of his times, and gives us a deeper understanding of a real hero of modern history.  Here's the trailer:

Mandela was born in a small village in South Africa in 1918.  He went on to study law, and became a lawyer, representing mainly blacks who were systematically oppressed under the white South African government.  As a young man, he took part in bus boycotts, much like Americans did during the civil rights movement--to protest against apartheid, which was what South Africans called segregation.

Mandela joined the African National Congress, a political organization which sought equality and freedom for blacks.  The group organized many protests, boycotts, and direct action.  After the brutal Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, in which police and soldiers killed 69 unarmed black protestors, Mandela became increasingly convinced that nonviolence was not enough to secure freedom and justice for his people.

The brutal Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 shattered Mandela's faith in nonviolence.

He organized and took part in bombings of government and corporate buildings.  The buildings were not occupied when they were bombed, but he was labeled a terrorist, was captured, and sentenced to life in prison.

He spent 27 years imprisoned, mainly on Robben Island, where he and other political prisoners were subjected to hard labor in rock quarries.  Meanwhile, the struggle for black South African liberation continued.  His wife, Winnie, became an important leader in the movement.  By the 1980s, the global community was calling for an end to apartheid, and the oppressive white South African government.  People around the world began boycotting South African goods, and calling for the release of Mandela.  

Finally, in 1990, Mandela was released.  He began talks with government officials, who no longer considered him a terrorist, but rather an important leader of his people.  Finally, in 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa.  His political party was the African National Conress, which for many years was an illegal organization.

Mandela's long journey from activist, to prisoner, to president is incredibly inspiring, and serves as a model for all those who want to change the world.

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