Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nobel Prize Winner and Former South African President Nelson Mandela Passes Away At Age 95

Nelson Mandela, a former prisoner of South Africa's apartheid regime who would go on to become the nation's first black president passed away from a lung infection last week.

The 95 year old Mandela served as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, campaigning as a candidate for the previously banned African National Congress party less than three years after his release from prison.

After a trial on charges of sabotage in 1963, Mandela and several other ANC accomplices were found guilty and sentenced to prison. Mandela ended up serving time at three prisons- the most infamous of which was located on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town. By 1982, Mandela had been transferred to another prison where he was allowed to correspond with international activists. At the time, South Africa was engaged in the Border Wars or Bush Wars which pitted South Africa against communist guerillas and Cuban forces in the newly-independent former Portuguese colony of Angola. With communist insurgencies in Angola, a full fledged civil war in neighboring Mozambique and white-ruled Rhodesia falling into Robert Mugabe's iron grip and rechristened as Zimbabwe, Mandela was reportedly offered early release by the apartheid government of PW Botha if he would publicly and unconditionally renounce violence. However, Mandela refused.

By 1990, South Africa, Cuba and the Soviet Union agreed to a treaty where South West Africa would gain independence and South African troops would withdraw from what's now known as Namibia in return for Soviet and Cuban forces leaving Angola. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ANC's Soviet benefactors leaving Angola and Mozambique, ailing South African president PW Botha was replaced by FW DeKlerk. Feeling the apartheid system was unsustainable, DeKlerk ordered the release of Mandela and the legalization of all previously outlawed political parties in February 1990.

Mandela's most notable achievement as president of South Africa was overseeing the relatively peaceful transition from apartheid to a multi-party parliamentary system. In lieu of punishing officials from the previous regime, Mandela's government established what were called 'Truth & Reconciliation' committees where perpetrators of human rights violations would testify about their activities under apartheid in exchange for immunity from prosecution. This applied not only to white Afrikaners working for the apartheid government, but also senior members of Mandela's own ANC- including Mandela's ex-wife Winnie- for kidnapping and murdering blacks that they considered 'collaborators' with the Afrikaner apartheid regime [Winnie Mandela was on record for endorsing a particularly gruesome practice known as necklacing in which a tire filled with kerosene in placed around the victim and lit on fire- NANESB!].

In 1993, Mandela and his predecessor FW DeKlerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their respective roles in ending apartheid in South Africa. The peaceful transition of power in a historically violent continent such as Africa was a major accomplishment. However, many of South Africa's problems didn't simply vanish once Mandela was sworn into office.

While the institutionalized discrimination of apartheid ended with Mandela's election into the office of president, South Africa has been facing a sharp increase in violent crime, an AIDS epidemic and attacks against white farmers, immigrants and foreign workers. The situation is worsened by Mandella's ANC successors- President Thabo Mbeki has on occasion denied that AIDS or HIV is an issue in South Africa while current South African President Jacob Zuma sang a ballad called Shoot the Boer at an ANC Youth rally a few years ago, was accused of rape in 2005 and has openly praised Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe's expropriation of white farms in Zimbabwe as 'land reform'.

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