RIP Nelson Rolihlahla "Madiba" Mandela. July 18, 1918 - December 5, 2013
Photo Credit: S & A

RIP Nelson Rolihlahla "Madiba" Mandela. July 18, 1918 - December 5, 2013


Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela died today, December 5 2013 at the age of 95, just 5 months after his birthday.

President Jacob Zuma made the announcement from Pretoria, stating that Mandela passed away at 8:50pm in his Houghton home surrounded by his wife, Graça Machel and members of his family, adding that he would be given a state funeral, with flags flying at half-mast until then, in his honor.

This sad news comes months after Mandela was hospitalized with a recurring lung infection – a condition that would eventually deteriorate to the point at which he was critical.

Despite assurances from the president that Mandela was in a “serious but stable” condition, South Africans began preparing themselves for what would eventually come to pass, as Mandela’s family members flocked to Johannesburg, and the world shifted its attention the Pretoria hospital where he was being treated.

Known affectionately as Madiba, the globally-loved Mandela, after retiring from from public life 9 years ago, saw his health become increasingly fragile.

His last true public appearance was at the 2010 soccer World Cup.

Mandela, a key figure in the African National Congress, became a global symbol of the struggle against apartheid after he was was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island.

At the end of his trial, Mandela gave a now iconic speech in which he 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.

Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years before he was finally released in 1990 at the age of 71.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, for what the committee described as the “peaceful termination of the apartheid regime and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.” 

And a year later, he was elected president in the country’s first democratic election.

He stepped down from the presidency in 1999, but maintained a healthy, busy public life, brokering peaceful negotiations in Rwanda, establishing the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation for educational scholarship, launching the 46664 Aids fundraising foundation, and more.

His death comes just 1 week after a film based on his life opened in theaters – a life that has been, and will continue to be the subject of scripted films and documentaries, I’m sure.

Great black actors like Sidney PoitierDennis HaysbertMorgan FreemanDavid HarewoodTerrence Howard and most recently Idris Elba have all played him, whether in projects that were specifically centered around him, or in which others were the focus.

However, in looking over all those films – even those in which his story was the highlight – the narrative typically included his relation to some specific white male character (except for the most recent, starring Idris Elba): for example, in Mandela and de Clerk (Poitier & Michael Caine as de Clerk); in Goodbye Bafana (Haysbert and Ralph Fiennes as a prison guard responsible for Mandela, and the relationship they had); in Invictus (Freeman and Matt Damon as captain of the South African Springboks rugby team).

The new film with Elba is really the only one that I’d call a definitive Nelson Mandela film, which, if you think about it, is a shame, given the long-standing global iconic awareness of the man.

In the next 12 months, there will be others, starting with development of a 6-part TV miniseries aptly titled Madiba, on the life of Nelson Mandela, which will be based on Mandela’s 2 books: Conversations With Myself, and Nelson Mandela By Himself – a significant change, considering that most past films in which Mandela was a character, were based on books written by others.

And most recently, South African film company DV8 Films announced that it will trace Mandela’s years as a guerrilla freedom fighter, in a new docu-drama titled Mandela’s Gun

The film, which will feature both documentary and scripted elements, will include his military training in Morocco and Ethiopia, and the mystery of the pistol, said to have been a gift to Mandela from Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, which has been missing for 50 years, leading up to his arrest in 1962.

John Irvin, who dramatised John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, will be directing the film – a UK/South Africa production – with South African actor, Tumisho Masha, playing the role of the country’s first black president; a rare occasion, given that, historically, on screen, Mandela has been played by American and British actors.

The film’s producers say that Masha is indeed the first South African actor to play Nelson Mandela in a film. Mind-blowing isn’t it?

In 1962, using the alias David Motsamayi, Mandela traveled through Africa, during which he received military training in Morocco and Ethiopia, learning to use an automatic rifle and pistol, how to make small bombs and mines, and more. He would later go to the UK to seek support for the South African Apartheid armed struggle, and eventually returned to South Africa later that year, only to be arrested almost soon after his arrival, put on trial and jailed on Robben Island. 

Mandela even earned the nickname “the Black Pimpernel,” given how he was able to evade authorities during those years. For more than 15 months during 1961 to 1962, Mandela was at the top of the South African police’s most-wanted list, sought for helping to organize the mass work stoppage by Africans in May 1961 in order to protest apartheid and the proclamation of South Africa as a republic.

Shooting on Mandela’s Gun began last month, as Idris Elba’s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom opened in theaters across the nation.

Nelson Rolihlahla “Mandiba” Mandela dead at the age of 95.

What an involved, inspiring life.

May his soul rest in peace.

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