WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa and anti-apartheid revolutionary, has died at the age of 95.
President Jacob Zuma said Mandela died Thursday at his home after ongoing health problems.
“Our nation has lost its great son,” Zuma said in a televised statement to the nation.
President Barack Obama spoke very highly of Mandela during a press conference at the White House.
“He achieved more than could be expected of any man,” Obama said. “Today he has gone home. We have lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on Earth. He no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages.”
Obama said that he is one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from the leader’s life and that he will do what he can to learn from him.
“Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us,” Obama said. “His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings — and countries — can change for the better. His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives.”
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Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in the village of Mvezo as Rolihlahla, meaning “troublemaker.” His school teacher renamed him Nelson and he moved to Johannesburg at 23.
He was one of the South Africa’s first black lawyers and he joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1952 devoting his life to peacefully ending apartheid.
According to his biographer Richard Stengel, the exposure to the racism from the white regime permanently shaped him.
“One of the insidious ways that apartheid worked is that it lowered your self-esteem in the beginning and then when you were mistreated you felt like you deserved it,” Stengel said to CBS News. “Mandela never, for one second, felt like he deserved to be mistreated in any way.”
Mandela formed a military wing for the ANC after 69 black peaceful protesters were killed by white South African police in the Sharpeville massacre.
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“There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and non-violence against a government whose reply is only savage attacks on an unarmed and defenseless people,” Mandela stated at the time.
In 1962 he was arrested, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for sabotage and conspiracy.
Authorities on Robben Island were bent on breaking his spirit while he was in prison, but that never stopped him from fighting for freedom. His wife at the time, Winnie Mandela, became a central figure in continuing his struggle for freedom while he was locked away.
After 27 years in prison, Mandela walked out a free man on Feb. 11, 1990.
Later that same year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with F.W. De Klerk, the South African president at the time who freed him. One year later, Mandela was elected the first black president of the country.
“I cherish the idea of a new South Africa where all South Africans are equal,” Mandela said, and “the time for the healing of the wounds has come.”
During his time as president, Mandela worked hard to heal the country from the wounds that were left. He increased the government investment in housing, education, jobs and infrastructure along with introducing free health care for children.
Over the past year, the leader’s health has waned and he was in and out of the hospital several times.