Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)
The Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela: ‘Madiba’, the father of South African democracy. He is a giant figure in the history of the second half of the twentieth century, and an icon of courageous, self-sacrificing struggle for human rights. He had faith in both the goodness of human beings and in the liberating potential of democracy. His voice was the most eloquent expression of the South African people’s anguish and also their battle cry for dignity and freedom.
He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944, aged 26, and became a leader of the anti-apartheid movement following the introduction of that policy of ‘separate development’ by the white racist minority government in 1948. Fifty years after joining the ANC, he – and other black South Africans – was able to vote for the first time in free, multi-racial elections in 1994.
For Nelson Mandela those 50 years were marked by intense struggle and persecution and a sentence of life imprisonment. In association with the South African Communist Party in 1961, he co-founded the ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe’ (Spear of the Nation) as the armed wing of the ANC. An armed struggle was launched that year that resulted in his arrest and imprisonment in 1962 for conspiracy to overthrow the government. He served 27 years, mostly on the notorious Robben Island.
His release in 1990 was a result of the determination of the black majority to persist with their fight, regardless of oppression, killings and torture, and the international solidarity with their plight and struggle. Mandela – ‘Madiba’ – symbolized that determination.
Victory came in the form of regime change, the abolition of the racist apartheid system, and the election of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa in 1994. In South Africa’s first free multi-racial elections, the ANC was resoundingly victorious.
Nelson Mandela lives on in our hearts as an inspiration to all who fight for freedom under conditions of tyranny and to those in solidarity with them. He was awarded with more than 250 honours, including the Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Soviet Order of Lenin.
On trial in Rivonia in April 1964, Mandela made one of the great speeches in the struggle for democracy. He declared from the dock: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
View the full text of the Rivonia Trial speech