When it comes to human rights, it often seems like we’re exposed to more horrors than triumphs, so it’s important to commemorate victories to remind ourselves that hope is alive and change is possible.
February 11th marks the twentieth anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s historic release from Victor-Verster Prison in Paarl, South Africa after 27 years of imprisonment for “treason and sabotage.” Afterwards, he delivered a speech in front of 50,000 people in Cape Town and declared, “Our march to freedom is irreversible.”
Mandela spent 27 years in prison for being a leader in the fight against apartheid, South Africa’s oppressive system that dictated where blacks could work or live. As vice-president of the illegal African National Congress, he led a campaign to sabotage the country’s economy. He was arrested, and in 1964, sentenced to life in prison. At his trial, Mandela declared, “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.”
Fortunately Mandela lived to see freedom and the end of apartheid. Massive uprisings and civil unrest, as well as economic sanctions by other nations, led to the dissolution of apartheid. In 1990, President FW de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC and released Mandela.
Of course South Africa is not a utopia, and the deep consequences of systematic racism and oppression will take much time and effort to reverse. However Mandela’s resistance and spirit is an inspiration to the world and to those fighting injustice. Mandela is now 90 years old and has not ceased to fight for peace and justice; most notably he has been a vocal leader in the fight against AIDS and the stigma placed on the afflicted in Africa.
Take a moment to appreciate Mandela’s remarkable work and the 20th anniversary of his great milestone. May his legacy fuel your hope for the world and your drive to fight for justice.