ECLETIC RANT: Nelson Mandela, South Africa's Moral Center, is Dead at 95

By Ralph E. Stone
Friday December 06, 2013 - 11:55:00 AM

Nelson Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, is dead at 95. A great man has died.  

Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the first South African president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election.  

Before his presidency, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). In 1962 he was arrested and convicted of sabotage and other charges, and sentenced to life in prison. Mandela served 27 years in prison, spending eighteen of these years on Robben Island. At Robben Island, Mandela worked in the lime, which caused the damage to his lungs that led to his death. 

Following his release from prison on February 11, 1990, Mandela led his party in the negotiations that led to multi-racial democracy in 1994.  

Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.  

Since his retirement in 1999, one of Mandela's primary commitments has been the fight against AIDS. His son, Makgatho Mandela, died of AIDS on January 6, 2005. AIDS continues to be a major problem in South Africa and indeed, in all of Africa. An estimated 5.6 million people were living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa in 2011, more than in any other country. In that same year, an estimated 270.000 South Africans died of AIDS. 

In 2002, my wife Judi and I visited South Africa. While we were in Cape Town, we took a ferry ride to Robben Island, the political prison where Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders were imprisoned. The island is now a museum and the guides are former prisoners. Our guide served 8 years of a 10 year sentence for carrying explosives. He described the appalling conditions that the inmates endured. Our guide recounted how he had recently met a former prison guard, who had beaten him daily. The former guard was on the island to show his wife and two young children where he used to work. The guide warned him that if he was on his tour, he would single him out as one of the brutal prison guards. The former guard decided not to take his family on the tour. The guard did say he would like to sit down and talk with our guide. The guide said he had mixed emotions about such a meeting. I have always wondered whether the two ever met and, if so, the outcome of the meeting. 

During our visit to Soweto, a Black township just outside Johannesburg, we asked one of our black guides about his feelings toward white South Africans. He told us that Nelson Mandela invited his prison warden to sit at the head table at his inauguration and then commented, "Where our leader leads, we must follow no matter how bitter or angry we feel."  

We also visited Guguletu, a township near Cape Town. Our Black guide took us to a Community development project where we dined on African cuisine, including one of Mandela's favorite dishes -- a tasty casserole of beans and corn. Our Black guide took us to his squatter shack in the township. It was a two-room shack where he and his young son lived. The inhabitants of four such shacks shared an outhouse, which was cleaned once a week. We saw first hand how thousands of Blacks lived during apartheid.  

Madiba, you are one of history's great men.