A Revolutionary Life and Death

Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela. Courtesy Videovision Entertainment.

Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela. Courtesy Videovision Entertainment.

“F*ck Mandela!”

I remember hearing those words last year when I traveled to Cape Town as part of an internship program.  Upon learning that Mandela’s birthday would be occurring during my time here, I shared my excitement with a fellow grassroots activist here.  Surely, there will be some sort of cool parade or public event where I can take pictures to send home, I thought, only to have my wide-eyed excitement shot down by these two words. How could he say something like that about Mandela? The Nelson Mandela. As an African-American child of pan-African parents, Mandela was one of the few revolutionaries who managed to outlive prison and assassination attempts in order to witness his beloved country become free for all with the downfall of apartheid. I mean seriously, even the twins Sandra gave birth to on The Cosby Show were named after Nelson Mandela and his wife, Winnie. Nelson Mandela even outlived Michael Jackson. Michael friggin’ Jackson! So how could this activist, who lives in modern-day South Africa and reaps the benefit of all that Nelson Mandela fought for, have the gall to say such vile words about our honorable elder?

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The Future of the ANC

Artist Paul Blomkamp’s portrait of Mandela that was painted to celebrate his 95th birthday

Artist Paul Blomkamp’s portrait of Mandela that was painted to celebrate his 95th birthday

With the recent news of Nelson Mandela’s death, I’ve been thinking a lot about the friends I made while I was in South Africa and what he may have meant to them, and to their country as a whole.  I can’t claim any true understanding of their perception of him as a leader and political figure; opinions are opinions, after all.  However, during this time, I’ve begun wondering what his passing will mean for his political party, and perhaps more importantly where his political party stands in the country these days.

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Glossary: Political Prisoners

Image courtesy of ActNow Australia

Image courtesy of ActNow Australia

The term “political prisoner” is not easy to define. The category is contested, and there is a lack of global consensus about who qualifies as a political prisoner. For some, the term may convey a special status which necessitates immediate release. For others, political prisoners may include those who have undertaken acts of treason or espionage, which warrant harsh punishment. Still others take the definition to include acts of violence committed for political reasons or in support of a cause. The conflicted nature of issues surrounding political prisoners is represented in the old adage: “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.” Citizens convicted of participating in armed resistance may be designated as political prisoners by comrades and supporters, but considered criminals by the government.

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Sixty-Seven Steps to Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

There are very few people whose actions effectively change the course of history. As the face of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Nelson Mandela has devoted his life to social justice, spent 27 years imprisoned for his convictions, has served as an inspiration to political prisoners all over the world and has been a consistent crusader for democracy. After being released from Robben Island in 1990, he was elected as South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994 and served until 1999. He has since traveled the world as a global statesman, speaking in opposition to the NATO intervention in Kosovo and the US-lead invasion of Iraq. In 2004, Mandela stepped away from the public spotlight to focus on spending time with family and friends.

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