Dead today at age 95 in his Johannesburg residence, Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest examples of political leadership in the history of humanity, with sacrifice and devotion to his beloved South Africa.
Among his many virtues, this man who spent 27 years in prison had the ability to be absolutely true to his word: “True leaders should be willing to sacrifice everything for the freedom of their people,” he once said. Known by the people who loved him as Madiba, or Tata (which means “father” in Xhosa) he was the first democratically elected president of South Africa, on May 19, 1994.
Born in Mvezo, in the Cape, on July 18, 1918, he earned his law degree from the University of Witwatersrand in 1942. The great crusade of his life was to end racial discrimination and the unjust apartheid system.
“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”, his favorite phrase, from the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley, is a perfect expression of the essence of the ideas of the historic leader of the African National Congress.
In 1962 he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison for his anti-apartheid activities, spending most of the next 27 years on Robben Island. There, his reputation grew and he became known as the most important black leader in South Africa, with enormous international repercussion during the years of struggle against the apartheid government.
After his liberation on Feb. 11, 1990, Mandela led the negotiations to achieve a multiracial democracy.
Elected president from 1994 to 1999, his agenda prioritized South Africa’s opening to the world, and gratitude to all countries — and very especially to Cuba — that contributed to his nation’s freedom, democracy, and to the independence of Namibia.
More than 250 international prizes were conferred on him, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. He had six children, and his former wives were Evelin Ntoko Mase, Winnie Madikizela. His wife until his death was Graca Simbine Machel.
South Africa weeps for Nelson Mandela’s passing, and the world does too.