Honoring Nelson Mandela at 90

Statesmen, royalty and major world figures in business, sports and entertainment celebrated the life of South African anti-apartheid and national liberation leader Nelson Mandela during a Hyde Park concert in London, June 27. The event honored Mandela’s 90th birthday, which is July 18, and comes 20 years after the 1988 Free Mandela concert that was held in London to demand his release from prison.

Proceeds from the concert went to the 46664 charity, the AIDS campaign named after the number Mandela wore while imprisoned by South Africa’s apartheid authorities. Approximately 46,664 tickets were sold, packing the concert venue.

South Africa is one of the countries worst hit by HIV, with 5 million people living with the illness. Mandela lost a son to AIDS in 2005 and has now made the fight against the pandemic his main cause.

Mandela addressed the crowd praising the event but said it was time for “new hands to lift the burdens” of human suffering.

“Even as we celebrate, let us remind ourselves that our work is far from complete,” he said. “Where there is poverty and sickness, including AIDS, where human beings are being oppressed, there is more work to be done. Our work is freedom for all.”

Mandela was a devoted freedom fighter against white colonial rule that had for centuries concentrated all South Africa’s political, economic, social and military power in the hands of the white minority. As an anti-apartheid activist against the country’s racist institutions Mandela eventually became a national liberation leader with the African National Congress (ANC) and helped establish its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe while going underground in 1961.

After being caught and convicted of capital crimes against the apartheid regime in 1963, he spent 27 years in prison on Robben Island with numerous ANC and other political prisoners. The prison is now a museum and tourist destination.

At his 1963 Rivonia Trial Mandela made his now famous political protest statement: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the 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 need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela became a worldwide symbol of freedom, hope, peace and equality and was finally released from prison in 1990, leading the movement to end apartheid to victory. In the country’s first all-inclusive, multi-racial election in 1994, Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically-elected president and served for five years. He has received numerous human rights awards over four decades, most notably the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He retired from politics in 1999 and has since campaigned to prevent the spread of AIDS and raise awareness about the disease.

Meanwhile President Bush recently signed a bill passed by Congress that removes Mandela and the ANC from a decades-old terrorist watch list. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the restriction “embarrassing.” But it was the GOP’s Reagan administration that helped prop-up the racist South African regime, and designated the ANC a terrorist organization.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) said, “Today the United States finally has removed from its legal code a vestige of that time of collective insults against human dignity. Our country stands with those who struggled to bring the reprehensible system of apartheid to an end.”

plozano @pww.org