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Nelson Mandela remembered on his 98th birthday

The Undefeated revisits Mandela’s life of service

Thousands around the world are doing their part on #MandelaDay to remember South African activist Nelson Mandela on his birthday. Mandela, who died from a respiratory infection in December 2013, would have turned 98.

The Nelson Mandela International Day was created to not only honor the leader’s life and legacy, but to encourage all to become leaders and speak out on the social injustices in society.

As a lawyer, Mandela became a more active leader after witnessing the unfair treatment and discriminatory laws citizens faced during apartheid in South Africa. Mandela, passionate and often outspoken about his views and defying white minority rule, became an easy target for authorities.

In 1960, police opened fire on peaceful demonstrators who were protesting against many of the South African government’s restrictions in what became known as the Sharpeville Massacre. The aftermath, which left 69 protesters dead and 180 wounded, was the final blow for Mandela. Though many of Mandela’s tactics were previously peaceful, the massacre pushed him to organize a more forceful stance that resorted to armed struggle, if necessary.

In 1963, after years of rebellious tactics and freedom-fighting oppressors in South Africa, Mandela and 10 others were charged with sabotage and conspiracy in what became known as the Rivonia Trial.

Instead of testifying, Mandela gave a more than three-hour speech that reasserted his stance while on trial.

“Our fight is against real and not imaginary hardships or, to use the language of the State Prosecutor, ‘so-called hardships.’ Basically, My Lord, we fight against two features which are the hallmarks of African life in South Africa and which are entrenched by legislation, which we seek to have repealed. These features are poverty and lack of human dignity, and we do not need communists or so-called ‘agitators’ to teach us about these things.

“South Africa is the richest country in Africa, and could be one of the richest countries in the world. But it is a land of extremes and remarkable contrasts. The whites enjoy what may well be the highest standard of living in the world, whilst Africans live in poverty and misery. Forty percent of the Africans live in hopelessly overcrowded and, in some cases, drought-stricken reserves, where soil erosion and the overworking of the soil makes it impossible for them to live properly off the land. Thirty percent are laborers, labor tenants, and squatters on white farms and work and live under conditions similar to those of the serfs of the Middle Ages. The other 30 percent live in towns where they have developed economic and social habits which bring them closer in many respects to white standards. Yet most Africans, even in this group, are impoverished by low incomes and the high cost of living.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life 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 will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

On June 12, 1964, Mandela and eight others were sentenced to life in prison. While in prison, Mandela continued to be a powerful voice, never ceding to the restrictions that had been placed upon him. In February 1990, 27 years after being convicted, Mandela was freed.

Shortly afterward, the leader delivered his first speech out of prison, maintaining the same fire, passion and commitment he possessed before his time away. While concluding, Mandela borrowed from the very same speech that played a role in his incarceration.

“In conclusion, I wish to go to my own words during my trial in 1964. They are as true today as they were then. I wrote: I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the idea 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. My friends, I have no words of eloquence to offer today except to say that the remaining days of my life are in your hands. I hope you will disperse with discipline. And not a single one of you should do anything which will make other people to say that we can’t control our own people.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.