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Nelson Mandela's life and times
Jailed for 27 years, he emerged in 1990 to become the country's first black president four years later and to play a leading role in the drive for peace in other spheres of conflict. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
His charisma, self-deprecating sense of humour and lack of bitterness over his harsh treatment, as well as his amazing life story, partly explain his extraordinary global appeal.
Since stepping down as president in 1999, Mr Mandela has become South Africa's highest-profile ambassador, campaigning against HIV/Aids and helping to secure his country's right to host the 2010 football World Cup.
Mr Mandela - who has had a series of health problems in recent years - was also involved in peace negotiations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and other countries in Africa and elsewhere.
In 2004, at the age of 85, Mr Mandela retired from public life to spend more time with his family and friends and engage in "quiet reflection".
"Don't call me, I'll call you," he warned anyone thinking of inviting him to future engagements.
The former president has made few public appearances since largely retiring from public life.
In November 2010, his office released photos of a meeting he had held with members of the US and South African football teams.
He has been treated in hospital several times in the past two years.
In late January 2011 he was admitted to a Johannesburg hospital for "specialised tests" with the South African presidency reminding a concerned nation that Mr Mandela has had "previous respiratory infections".
While in jail on Robben Island in the 1980s, the former president contracted tuberculosis.
In early 2012 he was treated for what the president's office said was "a long-standing abdominal complaint".
But in recent months he has been troubled repeatedly by a lung infection.
The story of Mandela's struggle for freedom and justice
LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (Abridged Edition) By Nelson Mandela. Abridged by Coco Cachalia and Marc Suttner. Nolwazi Educational Publishers (Pty) Ltd, Braamfontein, Gauteng, South Africa. 1996. pp.122. Pbk: R19.95 (US$4.50).
The world's best known and longest-serving political prisoner's 27-year ordeal finally came to an end when shortly before 4 pm on February 11, 1990, Nelson R Mandela, accompanied by his wife Winnie, walked out of the Victor Verster prison in Cape Town. It may have been a few short steps to the prison gate, but it was a giant leap for Mandela and indeed the whole of South Africa.
Outside the prison gates, thousands of people welcomed their hero as Mandela raised his fist triumphantly. From that moment onwards, the history of South Africa moved fast and changed radically as narrated by Mandela himself in this straight forward account titled Long Walk to Freedom.
The apartheid regime's decision to release Mandela was not predicated on compassion his incarceration on June 11, 1964 for life was itself a great travesty of justice. Mandela and his fellow strugglers wanted political rights for all South Africans regardless of race or colour. This was not acceptable to the white minority who wanted the vast resources of the country only for themselves.
The overwhelming majority of South Africans - the blacks - were denied their most basic rights once the Nationalist Party led by Dr Daniel Malan imposed apartheid upon coming to power in 1948. Apartheid actually means 'separate development' but there was no development for the blacks only separation from the whites and denial of the most basic rights, especially human dignity. The word apartheid and South Africa became synonymous for the next 40 years.
In the Pretoria courthouse where the trial, that came be known as the Rivonia Trial, was held from October 1963 onwards, Mandela did not deny the charges. These were very serious indeed - planning sabotage and conspiracy to wage guerrilla warfare. If convicted, he could face the death penalty. Mandela was also not alone. Others charged with him included such African National Congress (ANC) stalwarts as Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangani, Bob Hepple, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Dennis Goldberg, Rusty Bernstein and Jimmy Kantor.
It was Mandela, however, who spoke first when the prosecution ended its case on February 29, 1964. He told justice Quartus de Wet that their struggle was to get rights for all South Africans and to end the unjust system of apartheid which had 'robbed the African people of their dignity.' He then turned to the judge and putting aside his prepared text, spoke thus:
'During my life-time, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. 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' (p.62). This is perhaps the most dramatic statement in the entire book.
With the exception of Bernstein, all others were found guilty of various charges and sentenced to life imprisonment. No stranger to prison, it started another period in the life of Mandela. In fact, at the time of the Rivonia Trial, he was already serving a five-year sentence at the notorious Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town.
Mandela describes in detail the travails encountered at Robben Island and the seemingly small but significant battles they fought - and won - against their tormentors to preserve their dignity. Throughout the book, he narrates events in a non-chalant, matter-of-fact style.
He writes that the first few years at the Island prison were very difficult. Life was harsh the food terrible. They were kept in solitary confinement, denied all news of the outside world and subjected to hard labour, first in the prison courtyard breaking stones, and later quarrying lime stone in the mines.
When first taken to the quarry, the commanding officer, colonel Wessels, told them that they would be there for about six months. 'He was a bit off with his timing: we remained at the quarry for the next 13 years' (p.70), says Mandela.
He found the prolonged separation from his second wife Winnie and their children most difficult to bear (His first wife Evelyn Mase, a cousin of Sisulu's, left him in 1953 when he refused to give up politics. Like Evelyn, Mandela met Winnie also through Sisulu. He had two daughters from her. Since his release, his marriage to Winnie has also fallen apart, another tragic part of his life).
Prisoners' families wer allowed visits every six months but Winnie was refused permission for two years at a stretch. This, Mandela writes, he found very painful. Even when she was allowed to visit, they could talk only through a glass partition and the meeting lasted a mere 30 minutes.
Mandela starts his account from early childhood. In that sense, the book is chronologically arranged. Born Rolihlahla, the name given by his father which meant one pulling the branch of a tree, or 'trouble-maker' for short. He lived up to this reputation but as a rebel with a cause.
He acquired the name Nelson through his teacher when he enrolled in the tin-roofed single-room school in Qunu. His parents had moved there after his father was stripped of all possessions - land, cattle chieftainship - in a dispute with another person and his refusal to appear before a magistrate. His father felt that the magistrate had no jurisdiction, insisting that it was a tribal matter.
While his father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa had no formal education, he was chief and member of the Thembu royal family. He had four wives (No, he was not a Muslim!) from whom he had 13 children. Mandela's mother Nosekeni Fanny was the third wife who had four children, three daughters and a son. Mandela was the youngest of four boys. His mother had become a Christian and young Rolihlahla was baptised in a Methodist church.
It was at the urging of a neighbour that Mandela was enrolled in school. He recalls his first day there with pride. His father died when Mandela was only nine but his education continued through the help of kind neighbours and friends.
One of these, he says, was Jongintaba Dalindyebo, paramount chief of the Thembu tribe. Jogintaba had been nominated chief or Regent at the urging of Mandela's father. The Regent returned the favour when Mandela's father died. He took the young boy under his care. Together with his son Justice, Mandela was enrolled in a boarding school. It was there that he met Oliver Tambo, later to become president of the ANC during Mandela's long imprisonment. The two boys fled the Regent's care when he wanted them married to the village priest's daughters. They ended up in Johannesburg where they met Sisulu.
It was Sisulu who got him a job as an articled clerk in the law firm of Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman. It was also there that he met others who were either members of the ANC or the communist party. But it was largely through Sisulu that Mandela got involved in ANC work, ending up being assigned important responsibilities within the organisation.
If the years 1946 to 1961 were the formative years of his political career in which he realised the barbarity of the apartheid system, the years from 1961 onwards were to take him on a new course altogether. It was soon after his acquittal on treason charges and some months after the Sharpeville massacre (March 20, 1960) that he urged the ANC to take up armed struggle.
At first, Mandela faced opposition from some members of the ANC working committee but he was able to persuade them after a while. It was also at this stage that he went underground. He had already served a number of rounds in prison for various offences including travelling abroad without proper documents and being a member of an illegal organisation. He had visited various African countries to rally support for the struggle against apartheid.
The armed struggle involved training Umkhonto we Sizwe (the Spear of the Nation - the ANC army) in neighbouring countries. Mandela was appointed its first chief. On June 26, 1961, he even sent a letter to the press explaining why he had gone underground (p.46). He invited them to join him in the struggle that lay ahead.
Going underground meant staying out of sight during the day, emerging at night and changing places frequently. The ANC had bought Liliesleaf Farm in Rovinia as a hideout. It was from there that the six-page document titled 'Operation Mayibuye' was captured on a tip off from a government infiltrator into the ANC army. It was a plan for guerrilla warfare and mass armed uprising against the government if sabotage did not work.
The discovery of 'Operation Mayibuye' landed the ANC leadership in prison and led the apartheid regime to launch massive strikes against neighbouring countries. The period 1964 to 1988 at Robben Island is discussed at length in the book. From then onwards, things began to change dramatically when Mandela was moved to Pollsmoor prison.
It was Mandela who repeatedly called for negotiations with the government about which some of his comrades expressed reservations. They feared that this would be interpreted as a sign of weakness but Mandela says that he knew where to draw the line. Events seemed to have vindicated his stance.
A year after his release, the ANC started 'talks about talks' with the government to arrive at a settlement. During this time, a number of ANC supporters were gunned down. While the talks started in March 1991, it was not until December 1991 that serious talks about the future of the country were initiated.
Mandela has much praise for F W de Klerk, the man who took the decision to release him and to agree to dismantle apartheid. After months of intense negotiations, a deal about a government of national unity was announced in February 1993. By November, an agreement was also reached about an interim constitution.
When elections were held on April 27, 1994, the ANC emerged with 62.6 percent of the vote gaining 252 seats in a 400-member parliament. It also captured seven of the nine provinces, the other two going to the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Nationalist Party respectively. Mandela was sworn in as president on May 10, 1994.
It is a moving account of one of the great strugglers for justice and freedom this century. There are, however, major gaps in the book. For instance, Mandela does not tell us what led to the breakdown of his marriage with Winnie whom he has described in such glowing terms in the book. Also, he omits any mention of the stranglehold the white minority still has on the economy.
Since Mandela's election as president, the ANC has lost considerable support in the country because the government has not been able to deliver on many promises. There is disillusionment among the black youths at the lack of tangible progress.
Without economic freedom, one could ask whether Mandela is truly free, as the book's title suggests. This is not to belittle the immense sacrifices, his own and those of his family, that were made. But post-apartheid South Africa is beginning to look much like the one it replaced, with a few non-white faces in the forefront.
Did Mandela really walk to freedom or is it another of those false dawns that have occurred in so many 'third world' countries over the last 50 years? And what does the future hold once Mandela retires from active politics in 1999 when he would be 80? This book does not address these issues.
Notwithstanding this, it is an exciting account of the life-struggle of an exceptionally decent and courageous individual who made immense sacrifices for his people. He is truly a people's man, one moreover with a very large and forgiving heart. He has refused to put his tormentors on trial, placing the country's interests above his personal hurt.
One may disagree with his approach but one could hardly question his decency or self-sacrifice.
Statement announcing retirement, Nelson Mandela, 1 June 2004
Friends and colleagues and especially my good friends from the media.
Thank you very much to all of you for taking time out of your very busy schedules to come and listen to me this morning.
I have always said that many people come to such gatherings where we are present merely out of curiosity to see what an old man looks like. Having observed the media speculation in recent weeks about my retirement and
pending demise, I am even more certain you are present today for exactly that reason. But that does not in any way lessen my appreciation for your presence on the contrary, we are very happy that old age can still inspire such undeserved attention.
I observe quite a number of gloomy faces in the audience, but I will again have to disappoint you. I am not here to announce any fair departures. And in any case, my family and advisors have warned me not to tell my favorite story about arriving at heavens door, knocking, providing my name and being sent to the other place. Apparently that story makes too many people morose!
What I have come to do here this morning is to make an appeal more than an announcement.
I am turning 86 in a few weeks time and that is a longer life than most people are granted. I have the added blessing of being in very good health, at least according to my doctors. I am confident that nobody present here today will accuse me of selfishness if I ask to spend time, while I am still in good health, with my family, my friends and also with myself.
One of the things that made me long to be back in prison was that I had so little opportunity for reading, thinking and quiet reflection after my release. I intend, amongst other things, to give myself much more opportunity for such reading and reflection. And of course, there are those memoirs about the presidential years that now really need my urgent attention.
When I told one of my advisors a few months ago that I wanted to retire he growled at me: "you are retired." If that is really the case then I should say I now announce that I am retiring from retirement.
I do not intend to hide away totally from the public, but hence forth I want to be in the position of calling you to ask whether I would be welcome, rather than being called upon to do things and participate in events. The appeal therefore is: don’t call me, I’ll call you.
That is also for our generous business community not to feel too disappointed: I shall not totally forget you. When I notice a worthy cause that needs your support, I shall certainly call you.
Seriously therefore: my diary and my public activities will as from today be severely and significantly reduced. We trust that people will understand our considerations and will grant us the opportunity for a much quieter life. And I thank all of you in anticipation for your consideration.
This does, however, not mean that the work that we have been involved in, supported and promoted comes to an end. It has been our practice to establish organizations to do certain work and then to leave it to those organization to get on with the job.
The leadership of what we call, the three Mandela legacy organizations are present here today as proof and assurance that our work will continue, perhaps in an even more focused way now that the attention shifts from the individual to the organizations.
We are now able to concentrate very clearly on the work of these three independent but interlink legacy organizations. I am very satisfied to tell you that they are in full alignment with one another, each charged to giving expression to a specific aspect of human development. The work of the three foundations is distinct but complimentary and supportive of one another.
John Samuel, Bongi Mkhabela and Shaun Johnson - the CEO’s of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation respectively - will provide information about the work and sphere of activity of each organization.
I hope that you all will be as excited as I am about what will be achieved by these three highly functional and well organized bodies working in our name. I hope you will also get a clear picture of how much care and thought have gone into aligning these structures and preparing them for playing a major role in South Africa and Africa for many years to come.
Thank you very much for your attention and thank you for being kind to an old man - allowing him to take a rest, even if many of you may feel that after loafing somewhere on an island and other places for 27 years the rest is not really deserved.
Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize, the presidency of his country and the accolades of the United Nations – and the world – when it was announced that his birthday, on July 18, will now be known throughout the world as Mandela Day.
Since his triumphant release in 1990 from more than a quarter-century of imprisonment, Nelson Mandela has been at the centre of a most compelling and inspiring political drama – the building of a post-apartheid South Africa.
As president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, he was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule. He is revered everywhere as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality.
The Nelson Mandela Museum was opened at three sites: Mvezo, Qunu and The Bhunga Building in Mthatha, on February 11, 2000 by Nelson Mandela himself, the Ministry of Arts and Culture, as well as traditional and Civic leadership. It is today visited by thousands of South African and international tourists every year. It is one of South Africa’s most significant heritage institutions.
‘We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion is just beginning.’
The most compelling written history of Mr Mandela’s life is his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.
The Nelson Mandela Museum, positioned as it is in the area of his birth, upbringing and eventually, his retirement, offers an authentic journey through the sites, spaces and landscapes of his life. It commemorates his life and work, from childhood to adulthood, through its exhibitions, publications, collections, educational and cultural programmes.
Major events in the life of Nelson Mandela
July 18, 1918 — Born to Hendry Mphakanyiswa, a Thembu chief, and Nosekeni Qunu in the Umtata district of the Transkei, at a time when virtually all of Africa was under European colonial rule.
1940 — Expelled from University of Fort Hare, a leading institution for blacks, for role in a student strike.
1942 — Joins African National Congress, South Africa’s main campaigner for black equality.
1943 — Receives BA from Fort Hare after completing correspondence courses through University of South Africa.
June 4, 1948 — National Party, dominated by white Dutch-descended Afrikaners, is elected to power and begins installing apartheid, a system of complete racial segregation. It will rule without interruption for 46 years.
1952 — Mandela leads the Defiance Campaign, encouraging people to break racial separation laws. Convicted under Suppression of Communism Act, banned from attending gatherings and leaving Johannesburg. Passes exam to qualify as an attorney and, with Tambo, forms the first black law partnership in the country.
1958 — Marries social worker Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela after divorcing Evelyn Mase, his first wife.
1961 — Helps establish ANC guerrilla wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation.
April 20, 1964 — Charged with sabotage, Mandela delivered a statement during his trial in Pretoria that revealed the depth of his resolve in the fight against apartheid and his willingness to lay down his life in an effort to end white racist rule.
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people,” Mandela said. “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.”
Two months later, he and seven other defendants were sentenced to life in prison.
June 12, 1964 — Mandela and six others are sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to notorious Robben Island to serve their sentences.
1973 — Refuses a government offer of release on condition he agrees to a kind of exile in his native Transkei.
Feb. 10, 1985 — Another release offer, on condition he renounce violence. In fiery refusal, read by his daughter Zindzi at a rally, Mandela says burden is on the government to renounce violence, end apartheid and negotiate.
1985 — While in hospital for prostate surgery he is visited by Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee, the beginning of a political and diplomatic process that will lead on Dec. 9, 1988, to his transfer to better prison conditions on the mainland, north of Cape Town.
July 5, 1989 — Meets President P.W. Botha.
Dec. 13, 1989 — Meets Botha’s successor, F.W. de Klerk.
Feb. 2, 1990 — At the opening of Parliament, de Klerk announces the legalization of all political organizations including the African National Congress.
Feb. 10, 1990 — De Klerk announces Mandela will be released the next day.
Feb. 11, 1990 — Mandela walked out of South Africa’s Victor Verster prison near Cape Town after 27 years in captivity, holding hands with his wife, Winnie. He held up his fist and smiled broadly. Mandela’s release after so long was almost inconceivable for deliriously happy supporters who erupted in cheers as hundreds of journalists pressed forward. The world watched the electrifying occasion live on television. Because of Mandela’s decades-long confinement, few people knew what he looked like or had seen a recent photograph. Mandela said he was astounded by the reception.
“When I was among the crowd I raised my right fist, and there was a roar. I had not been able to do that for twenty-seven years and it gave me a surge of strength and joy,” Mandela wrote.
He also recalled: “As I finally walked through those gates to enter a car on the other side, I felt – even at the age of seventy-one – that my life was beginning anew.”
Oct. 15, 1993 — Mandela and De Klerk share Nobel Peace Prize.
May 10, 1994 — Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa after democratic elections, taking the oath of office at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the South African capital. Leaders and other dignitaries from around the world attended the historic occasion, which offered many South Africans another chance to celebrate in the streets.
At the close of his inauguration speech, Mandela said: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world,” he said. “Let freedom reign. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement! God bless Africa! Thank you.”
June 24, 1995: Mandela strode onto the field at the Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg, wearing South African colors and bringing the overwhelmingly white crowd of more than 60,000 to its feet. They chanted “Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!” as the president congratulated the victorious home team in a moment that symbolized racial reconciliation.
Mandela’s decision to wear the Springbok emblem, the symbol once hated by blacks, conveyed the message that rugby, for so long shunned by the black population, was now for all South Africans.
The moment was portrayed in “Invictus,” a Hollywood movie directed by Clint Eastwood. The film tells the story of South Africa’s transformation under Mandela’s leadership through the prism of sport.
March 19, 1996 — Mandela granted a divorce from Winnie.
July 18, 1998 — Mandela weds former Mozambican first lady Graca Machel on his 80th birthday.
June 16, 1999 — Mandela retires after one term, a rarity among African presidents, but continues to be active in causes promoting world peace, supporting children and fighting AIDS.
Jan. 30, 2003 — In speech, calls U.S. President George W. Bush arrogant and shortsighted for ignoring the U.N. on Iraq.
June 1, 2004 — Announces retirement from public life.
July 11, 2010 — A smiling Mandela waved to the crowd at the Soccer City stadium at the closing ceremony of the World Cup, whose staging in South Africa allowed the country, and the continent, to shine on one of the world’s biggest stages. Mandela appeared frail as he was driven in a golf cart alongside his wife, Graca Machel.
Mandela had kept a low profile during the month-long tournament, deciding against attending the opener June 11 after the death of his great-grand daughter in a traffic accident following a World Cup concert.
The former president did not address the crowd on that emotional day in the stadium. It was his last public appearance.
June 21, 2011 — Mandela meets at his home with Michelle Obama, her two daughters and other Obama relatives.
December 2012 — Mandela spends nearly three weeks in a hospital, where he is treated for a lung infection and has a procedure to remove gallstones.
April 29, 2013 — State television broadcasts footage of a visit by President Jacob Zuma and other ANC leaders to Mandela at his Johannesburg home. Zuma said at the time that Mandela was in good shape, but the footage – the first public images of Mandela in nearly a year – showed him silent and unresponsive, even when Zuma tried to hold his hand.
June 8, 2013 — The government says Mandela is admitted to a hospital with a recurring lung infection. Officials describe his condition as serious but stable.
December 5, 2013 — Mandela dies at age 95.
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More information about: Nelson Mandela 1918-2013
Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa on 18 July 1918 and was given the name of Nelson by one of his teachers. His father Henry was a respected advisor to the Thembu royal family.
Mandela was educated at the University of Fort Hare and later at the University of Witwatersrand, qualifying in law in 1942. He became increasingly involved with the African National Congress (ANC), a multi-racial nationalist movement trying to bring about political change in South Africa.
In 1948, the National Party came to power and began to implement a policy of 'apartheid', or forced segregation on the basis of race. The ANC staged a campaign of passive resistance against apartheid laws.
In 1952, Mandela became one of the ANC's deputy presidents. By the late 1950s, faced with increasing government discrimination, Mandela, his friend Oliver Tambo and others began to move the ANC in a more radical direction. In 1956, Mandela went on trial for treason. The court case lasted five years, and ended with Mandela being acquitted
In March 1960, 69 black anti-apartheid demonstrators were killed by police at Sharpeville. The government declared a state of emergency and banned the ANC. In response, the organisation abandoned its policy of non-violence and Mandela helped establish the ANC's military wing 'Umkhonto we Sizwe' or 'The Spear of the Nation'. He was appointed its commander-in-chief and travelled abroad to receive military training and to find support for the ANC.
On his return he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison. In 1963, Mandela and other ANC leaders were tried for plotting to overthrow the government by violence. The following year Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was held in Robben Island prison, off the coast of Cape Town, and later in Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland. During his years in prison he became an international symbol of resistance to apartheid.
In 1990, the South African government responded to internal and international pressure and released Mandela, at the same time lifting the ban against the ANC. In 1991 Mandela became the ANC's leader.
A respected global statesman
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with FW de Klerk, then president of South Africa, in 1993. The following year South Africa held its first multi-racial election and Mandela was elected its first black president.
In 1998, he was married for the third time to Graça Machel, the widow of the president of Mozambique. Mandela's second wife, Winnie, whom he married in 1958 and divorced in 1996, remains a controversial anti-apartheid activist.
In 1997 he stepped down as ANC leader and in 1999 his presidency of South Africa came to an end.
In 2004, Mandela announced his retirement from public life, although his charitable work continued. On 29 August 2007, a permanent statue to him was unveiled in Parliament Square, London.
Nelson Mandela’s Announcement of Retirement from Public Life (June 2004)
There are at least three statements by Nelson Mandela which relate to Johannesburg. The first two, which were discussed before, are his statement in his defense against criminal charges in the Rivonia Trial, April 1964 and his newspaper article about South Africa’s first decade of democracy, April 2004.
On June 1, 2004, Mandela announced his retirement from public life in a speech at the offices of The Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg. Here are extracts from his speech (verbatim) that day.
Announcement of Retirement 
“I am turning 86 in a few weeks time and that is a longer life than most people are granted. I have the added blessing of being in very good health, at least according to my doctors. I am confident that nobody present here today will accuse me of selfishness if I ask to spend time, while I am still in good health, with my family, my friends and also with myself.”
“One of the things that made me long to be back in prison was that I had so little opportunity for reading, thinking and quiet reflection after my release. I intend, amongst other things, to give myself much more opportunity for such reading and reflection. And of course, there are those memoirs about the presidential years that now really need my urgent attention.”
“I do not intend to hide away totally from the public, but henceforth I want to be in the position of calling you to ask whether I would be welcome, rather than being called upon to do things and participate in events. The appeal therefore is: don’t call me, I’ll call you.”
“This does, however, not mean that the work that we have been involved in, supported and promoted comes to an end. It has been our practice to establish organizations to do certain work and then to leave it to those organization to get on with the job.”
“The leadership of what we call, the three Mandela legacy organizations  are present here today as proof and assurance that our work will continue, perhaps in an even more focused way now that the attention shifts from the individual to the organizations.” 
“We are now able to concentrate very clearly on the work of these three independent but interlinked legacy organizations. I am very satisfied to tell you that they are in full alignment with one another, each charged to giving expression to a specific aspect of human development. The work of the three foundations is distinct but complimentary and supportive of one another.”
“Thank you very much for your attention and thank you for being kind to an old man – allowing him to take a rest, even if many of you may feel that after loafing somewhere on an island [Robben Island] and other places for 27 years the rest is not really deserved.”
Mandela retires from public life
South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon and revered statesman, Nelson Mandela, has announced he will be scaling back his public schedule to enjoy “a much quieter life”.
Mandela, who turns 86 next month, said he wanted to spend time with his family and friends, write memoirs about his tenure as South Africa’s first black president, enjoy reading and engage in “quiet reflection”.
“My diary and my public activities will, as from today, be severely and significantly reduced,” Mandela said during a farewell press conference at his charity foundation in Johannesburg.
“We trust that people will understand our considerations and grant us the opportunity for a much quieter life.”
The former president, who spent 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activities, is often called upon to lend his prestige to events, including leading the South African delegation that travelled to Zurich last month to win the right to host the 2010 World Cup.
But the Nobel Peace Prize winner has been showing signs of old age, walking at times with a cane and suffering from poor hearing.
“I do not intend to
hide away totally from the public”
“I do not intend to hide away totally from the public,” Mandela said, but he made clear that he was no longer able to meet the demands placed upon him for public appearances.
“Henceforth I want to be in the position of calling you to ask whether I would be welcome rather than being called upon to do things and participate in events. The appeal therefore is ‘Don’t call me, I’ll call you’,” he said.
But he said the work of his three foundations – for children’s rights, AIDS and the promotion of democracy and reconciliation – would not be hampered in any way.
He told the “generous business community not to feel too disappointed”, saying, “when I notice a worthy cause that needs your support, I shall certainly call”.
Speaking in a strong, clear voice, Mandela stressed that his retirement was “for real”, and said he hoped to speed up work on the second volume of his autobiography.
“The book is there. We have finished one-third of it … I hope it will be possible to complete the book as soon as possible.”
Mandela, affectionately known by this clan name Madiba, signed out with tongue-in-cheek humour, saying “after loafing somewhere on an island and other places for 27 years, the rest is not really deserved” – a reference to his years in prison on Robben Island, in Paarl and Cape Town.
South Africa shed the shadow of
apartheid a decade ago
Earlier, he said the hectic engagements he kept up since his release from prison sometimes “made me long to be back in prison” as he had “so little opportunity for reading, thinking and quiet reflection”.
Since his 1990 release from prison, Mandela has been at the forefront of his country’s transformation from apartheid to a “rainbow nation”, from pariah state to an African powerhouse.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace in 1993, along with South Africa’s last white president, FW de Klerk, for leading his country through a revolutionary change from white minority rule to democracy without the widely predicted bloodbath.
Mandela stepped down in 1999, passing the presidency to Thabo Mbeki, but remained a leading voice in South African politics on issues of race, poverty, AIDS and on world affairs.
At age 83, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and successfully underwent treatment, but in the following years he withdrew more and more from the public eye.
Help make Nelson Mandela’s retirement peaceful
Nelson Mandela receives at least 4 000 messages a month from people throughout the world.
Many of these pay tribute to Mr Mandela and wish him well in his retirement.
However, there are just as many requests: for his signature, a message of support, a public appearance or an interview. There are also continued injunctions for him to intervene in struggles around the world, and to endorse various causes.
As far back as 1999 Mr Mandela said the following in response to these calls: “I don’t want to reach 100 years whilst I am still trying to bring about a solution in some complicated international issue.”
Then, in 2004, he publicly announced his intention to step away from public life and tasked three organisations (the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation) with carrying on his humanitarian work.
Finally, in 2008, during his 90th birthday celebrations, he pointedly called on people everywhere to pick up the baton of leadership: “It’s in your hands to make the world a better place”.
In response to this call, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and it sister organisations implemented Mandela Day. This is a campaign that we hope will lead to a global movement of good, enabling individuals and organisations to start off with just 67 minutes of community service on Nelson Mandela’s birthday, and then start making every day a Mandela Day.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation would like to ask people everywhere to help make Madiba’s retirement a time of peace and tranquillity, and to once more note the following:
- He no longer grants interviews, nor does he respond to formal questions from the media, researchers or members of the public.
- Given the huge number of projects and causes he is asked to endorse, and the impossibility of selecting a few among the many worthy requests, he no longer provides messages of support, written or audio visual.
- Because of the sheer volume of requests for his autograph, he no longer signs books, memorabilia, photographs, etc. We therefore appeal to the public not to send items for him to sign as the Foundation cannot guarantee the safe return of this material.
Thank you for your continued support and your warm wishes to Mr Mandela.
For more information on how you are able to help perpetuate Madiba’s legacy, please click here.
Once more, we urge you to become part of the Mandela Day global movement for good. More information on how to participate can be found here.