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Wednesday, 18 July 2012






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Ninety fourth birthday today:

Nelson Mandela - 'the greatest man of the 20th century'

The twentieth century can be considered as one of the bloodiest the world has experienced. During this century, very few great men of moral and ethical principles emerged. I firmly believe that of these great national patriots, leaders, freedom fighters of the 20th century, the man who fought against apartheid, racial inequality, injustice and autocracy and made South Africa - 'One country - one nation' - Rolihlahla, who was named Nelson Mandela, undoubtedly occupied number one spot in the prestigious list. Nelson Mandela is the man of the 20th century.

Today, July 18, 2012, marks Nelson Mandela's 94th birth anniversary. I pen these few lines to pay my humble tribute to this great icon.

Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, at Mvezo, a small village in Umatata District, the capital of the Transkei.

Nelson Mandela

To forgive and forget means to dismiss from one's mind all unkind feelings and desire to blame and punish others. Even the men who ill-treated, harassed him, in his 'Dark Days', in the prison cells for nearly three decades, he forgave. His sense of mercy was unbelievable. It shows the quality of this great leader - Nelson Mandela.

Great democratic leader

The history of the world is but a biography of great men, stated Thomas (1795-1881) Scottish Philosopher, critic and historian. His most successful work was Sartor Resartus (1836), combined philosophy and autobiography. His histories include The French Revolution (1837). Influenced by Goethe and the German romantics, he was a powerful advocate of the significance of great leaders in history.

Nelson Mandela possessed all the qualities and ingredients that makes a leader. He is a visionary. Mandela is passionate, creative, flexible, innovative, courageous, imaginative. Added to these, his personality is woven with extra version, agreeableness, consciousness, embodying stability and openness to experience known as 'Big five' in management.

This great democratic leader had the ability to influence people towards the attainment of his country's goals. He was a marvelous human being. Nelson Mandela, united South Africa which consists of an area - 1,219,916 sq km (470,566 sq m), which consists of the ethnic groups - Black 75 percent, White 14 percent, Coloured 9 percent, Asian 2 percent, who speak the official languages - Afrikans, English, Ndebele, Sotno, Pedi, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu. Then, the religious denominations - Dutch Reformed 13 percent, Traditional Beliefs 13 percent , Zon Christians 4 percent, others 15 percent. Added to all these, he freed a country which followed a policy of racial segregation purchased by the South African government from 1948 to 1990, known as Apartheid - Racial inequality and restricted rights of the non-whites were institutionalized when the Afrikaner dominated National Party came to power in 1948. Apartheid enforced white minority rule. It was based on segregation in all aspects of life, including residence, land, ownership and education.

Non-whites which consisted 80 percent of the population, were also given separate political structures and quasi-autonomous homelands which are called Bantugtans. Movements of the non-whites were restricted. For the Blacks it was the worst of times. For Whites it was the best of times.

It was under these difficult conditions, with great sacrifices Nelson Mandela, united South Africa on 'One Country-One Nation'. This was his greatest achievement. He was a man of compassion.

New name

You can analyze the traits of a good leader by his speech, actions and vision. People of a country being the followers eternally have an eye on the leader, because he is the one who will drive them to achieve their dreams. The world admires a leader who inspires his followers, stands by them in turmoil and shares the joy in triumph. Nelson Mandela was committed, determined, disciplined which helped him to achieve his ultimate goal and united South Africa.

Nelson Mandela's father's name was Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa. He was a chief of Mvezo. Their clan name was Madiba, named after a Thembu Chief. Henry Mphakanyiswa, had four wives. Nelson Mandela was the son of the third wife. Her name was Nosekeni Fanny. She belongs to ama Mpemvu clan of Xhosa. At the birth of this child, parents named this child as Rolihlahla. You will be surprised to read and hear, that this child's first teacher Miss Mdingane, an English Teacher, gave this child a new name, in his first day in school, probably because the African jaw-breaking names were difficult to pronounce. He was given a new name Nelson Mandela.

It was the Mbekela Brothers that baptized Nelson Mandela. They insisted the little fellow should go to school. The school was in Qunu. There was a major problem. There was no proper dress for him to wear when he first attended school. His father, Henry Mphakanyiswa, took one of his trousers, made it a short.

Great orator

He wore a blanket wrapped over one shoulder. As the trouser was large, he took a string and tightened his trouser. This was how poverty stricken Mandela started his school career.

When Nelson Mandela was nine years, he lost his father. It was a turning point in his life. His mother, took little Nelson, and settled him at the residence of Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, who was residing in Mqhekezweni. He become Nelson's guardian. Here, Nelson started attending a one-room school and studied English, Xhosa, History and Geography. His later leadership were influenced by this great place Mqhekezweni. At the Regents place, there gathered many people in all walks of life, they had discussions and meeting on freedom. Mandela was probably influenced by these meetings. They knew, the majority rule was a foreign one. From his childhood, Nelson Mandela was a great listener - a quality of a future leader.

As a young boy of 16, Nelson Mandela joined a Weslyan Mission School - Clarkebury Institute. His guardian, the powerful chief's son - Justice too studied at this institution. It was a Thembu College. When Nelson Mandela was 19, he joined the Wesliyan College in Fort Beautist. Later, he joined Fort Hare. Here, he studied English, Anthropology, politics, Roman Dutch Law. Fort Hare, made him a man. He took part in sports - cross country running, acted in a play, produced by the College Dramatic Society titled Abraham Lincoln, -16th President of the USA, best remembered for abolishing the unjust practice of slavery.

Mandela was a member of the students Christian Association. He taught the Bible on Sundays in the villages. He was fortunate to meet Oliver Tambo, who was a great influence on him.

Equal opportunities for everyone

In the 1940s, World War II broke out. As a student, Nelson Mandela, became a supporter of Great Britain. He admired the War Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the great orator who motivated the Englishmen against Nazi German Fascist dictator Adolf Hitler. (1889-1945). He highly appreciated Jan Christian Smuts (1870-1950) Prime Minister of South Africa (1919-1924, 1939-1948), who worked with Louis Botha to establish the Union of South Africa in 1910.

At a very young age, Nelson Mandela was nominated to stand for the student Representative Council, which was a great achievement for a student of Fort Hare. He was a rebel student who supported the SRC student who fought for a satisfactory meal at the campus.

Mandela's guardian, father of Justice, looked after both of them dearly. One day, the guardian said, "Sons, it's high time, two of you'll marry and settle down as I might join the land of my ancestors."

This was a shocker to them. To escape marriage, both of them without telling the Queen and Regent - Silently left home to Johannesburg. This was a great challenge to Mandela. Later he became an attorney-at-law passed his law at the University of South Africa and commenced practising law with a friend.

In Johannesburg, he joined hands with African National Congress(ANC) local leader Walter Sisulu. He also met Sidelsky who asked him not to get involved in politics. "It brings out the worst in men", Sidelsky said. Nelson Mandela associated Gaur Radebe - prominent member of both African National Congress - ANC and Communist Party. He left Johannesburg and lived in Alexendra. He joined a law firm which paid two Sterling Pounds per week. At the end of 1942, he passed his final examination, BA Degree. It was during this time that he attended meetings at Township Advisory Board and the ANC. He was only an observer. In 1943, he enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand, which is situated in Brammfontein in North Central Johannesburg.

This great leader's main objective was to emancipate the innocent blacks from apartheid and form a classless, colourless society with equal opportunities for everyone in South Africa, to live peacefully and happily. He firmly believed that the African National Congress was the only means to effects change in South Africa.

In 1952, Chief Albert Luthuli was elected ANC president. The Executive Council, entrusted Nelson Mandela to prepare a plan for the ANC to operate underground. This was known as Mandela Plan or M-Plan. While being an Attorney-at-Law, Mandela become a ANC firebrand. In the meantime, he joined a leading Law Firm H. M. Basner. Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela started their own law firm - Mandela and Tambo.

Mandela faced many problems as he was against the white government. In April 1954, the Law Society of Transvaal struck his name off from the role of a credited attorney.

Freedom struggle

The ANC agitated against the government. Revolts were brewing everywhere. Dr. Xuma protested against the White government. About 10,000 people gathered to listen to ANC Chief Luthili.

In 1953, the nationalised dominated Parliament passed the Bantu Education Act. Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd was the Minister of Education. He mentioned "Train and teach people in accordance with their opportunities in life." With this, all future generations of Africa was at stake.

In a nutshell, Professor Mathews stated "Education for ignorance and for inferiority in Verwoerd's school is worse than no education at all." The Blacks were deprived of education.

The ANC with Nelson Mandela fought for Equal Rights. He voiced that land shall be shared among those who work it, and commended the freedom struggle.

On December 5,1956, Nelson Mandela was arrested for high treason. Not only Mandela, the government charged 156 for treason. This resulted in countrywide violence to overthrow the white dictatorship government.

On January 9,1957, the case was taken up at after 13 months. The magistrate F. C. A. Wessel stated he had found sufficient reason, and transferred the case of the the 95 remaining defendants to the Transvaal Supreme Court.

Nelson Mandela was charged in the case of Rivonia. When Mandela was called to make the statement, he stated that he was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). He stated that he played a prominent role in its affairs until he was arrested in August 1962. Nelson Mandela stated in Court, that he and ANC always stood for Non-Racial Democracy. Umkhonto was started by him in November 1961.

On June 1962, Justice De Wet read "Accused No 1 and No 2, found guilty on all charges, Kathy was found guilty only one of four, and Rusty Bernstein not guilty on all charges".

There was mass support for Nelson Mandela and the ANC members. Near the courthouse. They showed banners - We stand by our leaders.

Nelson Mandela's dark day's began on Robben Island. He was imprisoned here for 27 years. Robben Island Prison authorities, harassed and ill-treated him.

In 1998, I toured South Africa. I visited Johnnesburg, Pretoria, Blomfontaine, Sun City and Pillensburg Park, Kruger National Park, the Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain,Cape Town and Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years.

At Robben Island, he was imprisoned with Walter, Raymond, Govan, Kathy, Andrew and Elias.

In Robben Island, Mandela and colleagues were asked to work in a lime quarry. As Mandela was a 'D' category prisoner, he was entitled only one visitor and receive only one letter for six months.

Nelson Mandela firmly believed that Revolutionaries must be drawn from all classes and not from workers only. When Mandela and rebels were in Robben Island, there was a surprise visitor to see them. Helen Suzman member of the Liberal Progressive Party in Parliament came to meet Mandela, accompanied by Commissioner of Prisons - General Steyn.

In the years after Rivonia Trail, ANC's external mission started collecting funds to establish a military training programme.

While Nelson Mandela was in Robben Island prison, his oldest son, Madiba Thembekile, aged 25, father of two small children, died under tragic circumstance - in a motor accident. He was not allowed to attend his son’s funeral. Personally, it was a big blow and great tragedy in Mandela’s life.

In 1978, P. W. Botha, succeeded John Vorster as Prime Minister. Now things were getting better in the Robben Island prison for Mandela. Mandela sustained an injury and was taken to Cape Town Hospital. There was agitation in the world with the ‘Free Mandela Campaign’. In 1981, even the University of London nominated Nelson Mandela for the post of Chancellor.

In 1987, Nelson Mandela had many secret discussions with Kobie Coetsee, a powerful man in White government. These were done with the blessings of the government. Mandela wanted to prepare a memorandum giving their stand.

ANC supporters

Peter Willem Botha was the longest serving member of the apatheid regime. He become the state’s First President in 1980 and was re-elected in 1987. In 1989, he suffered a stroke and amid increasing National Party factionalism, resigned and replaced by the more reform minded F. W. De Klerk. The appointment of De Klerk was a blessing for ANC supporters.

The first formal secret meeting was held in May 1988. Mandela mentioned that South Africa belonged to all who live in it - Black and White. He mentioned that Whites were also Africans. Mandela stated “We cannot put White men to sea”. This meeting was very successful. On July 4, Mandela visited President Botha. After Botha known as ‘Crocodile’ resigned, the Head of the National Party F. W. De Klerk was elected President. Mandela’s release from prison made a world of difference to the African National Congress - A. N. C. When De Klerk become the President, a brilliant scholar who obtained a doctorate in classic Gerrit Viljoen - Minister of Constitutional Development prepared a constitution. In the meantime, political prisoners at Pollsmoor and Robben Island were released.

On October 10, 1989 - President De Klerk released Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba, Ahamed Kathrada, Andrew Miangeni, Elias Motsoaledi, Jeff Masemola, Wilton Mkways and Oscar Mpetha.

The February 2, 1990 was a Red Letter Day for South Africans. F. W. de Klerk made an announcement in Parliament that he will join the Democratic pathway and grant equal opportunities to all and he was prepared to dismantle the inhuman racial segregation apartheid.

F. W. De Klerk was a Man of Integrity. On December 20, 1991, talks began with Codesa - Convention for a Democratic South Africa - Government Party and ANC - African National Congress and other parties. In a diplomatic manner Nelson Mandela handled the situation brilliantly.

When I studied the history of South Africa in detail I found June 3, 1993 was a landmark in the annals of South Africa. The multi-party forum declared to have the country’s first national non-racial one person - one vote election on April 27,1994.

Difficult times

In 1993 - Nelson Mandela and F. W. De Klerk jointly won the Nobel Prize. It symbolised the unity of the Blacks with Whites.

Before the election campaign, the ANC drafted the Reconstruction Development Programme to build the entire infrastructure of the country. The manifesto in a nut-shell can be defined ‘A prosperous - better life for all’.

In the elections ANC polled 62.6 percent of the national vote. On the evening of May 2, De Klerk made a fine speech. The White minority was democratically defeated. Nelson Mandela was victorious. In making South Africa - ‘One country One Nation’ - De Klerk was the first to be sworn in as the second deputy president. Thabo Mbeki was sworn in as first deputy president. Then Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the President of South Africa. It was the birth of a new South Africa.

Nelson Mandela has six children. They are Madhiba, Makaziwe, Makgatho, Makaziwe, Zenani, and Zindi. He has 21 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Mandela first married Evelyn Mase, who worked at king Edward VII Hospital in Durban as a nurse. She was a devotee of the Church of Jehovah’s.

Nelson Mandela’s wife - Winnie was a source of encouragement for Mandela. She joined ANC’s Women’s League. Her full name was Nomzamo Winnifred Madikizela. She was the wind beneath his wings during difficult times. She visited him in prison several times.

Eliminate poverty

Mandela was a compassionate man who loved his children and all South Africans sans class, colour or creed. A few weeks prior to his 86th birthday in June 2004, he retired as President of South Africa.

After retirement, this “Good Samaritan” dedicated his life to Charities - Mandela Rhodes Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. All these organisations promote education, Health combating HIV/AIDS and are working to eliminate poverty in South Africa.

I quote from John Carlin’s “Nelson Mandela and the game that made a Nation – ‘Invictus”, a fascinating book woven round the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

This great leader, a lover of sports (He took part in Athletics and boxing) was the motivator behind the success of South Africa’s victory against New Zealand in 1995 Rugby World Cup , which helped South Africa to become One Country One Nation.

The poem given below inspired Nelson Mandela. This touching poem Invictus was written by William Ernest Henley begins with:

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
For my uncon-querale soul
The last poem out of four, states
It matters not how strait the gate
How charged with punishment the scroll
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.

I wish President Nelson Mandela a happy birthday. May this great leader live long. In my own language. Sinhala, I say Chiran Jayatu Your Excellency Nelson Mandela.


Nelson Mandela possessed all the qualities and ingredients that makes a leader. He is a visionary. Mandela is passionate, creative, flexible, innovative, courageous, imaginative. Added to these, his personality is woven with extra version, agreeableness, consciousness, embodying stability and openness to experience known as ‘Big five’ in management



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