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December 6, 2013

Remembering Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom

Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa known as a symbol of the movement that ended apartheid in his country, died yesterday at the age of 95.

“To my generation, the one that came of age in the ’60s, Nelson Mandela was a towering man of myth and legend, of action and passion, of selfless sacrifice,” said Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a former NewsHour senior correspondent who covered the South African leader for more than a decade and interviewed him on several occasions.

Born into a tiny rural village on South Africa’s eastern coast, Mandela was shaped by his Xhosa clan’s ritual and tradition that taught respect and responsibility for others. As he grew older, these responsibilities led him to fight against the oppressive white minority that demeaned Mandela and his fellow Africans, and deprived them of legal rights.

He took action against apartheid, or the legalized oppression of South Africa’s black population, by joining and becoming a leader in the African National Congress (ANC), an organization that pursued equal rights for all South Africans. In a 1962 crackdown by the apartheid state, the regime threw Mandela and his ANC colleagues in prison on charges of sabotage and fomenting violent revolution. Mandela was sentenced to life in prison.

Still, he remained a potent symbol of the resistance movement, and even began four years of secret negotiations with the government that ended in the release of many political prisoners and the unbanning of the ANC.

In 1990, after 27 years in prison, Mandela was released at the age of 71.

“I stand here, before you, not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people,” said Mandela in his first public address after gaining his freedom. “Today, the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future.”

Four years later, apartheid ended and Mandela himself voted for the first time in his life. He took office on May 10, 1994, becoming the country’s first black president.

Through his time as president and after, he continued his work of making life better for all South Africans by taking on challenges like bringing blacks into the economic mainstream, providing basic services for the poor and bringing attention to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

His extended family will join with millions who will honor his memory as he is buried in the Mandela family cemetery in his quiet village of Qunu.

Warm up questions
  1. Who is Nelson Mandela and what were his major accomplishments?
  2. What is apartheid and what role did it play in the history of South Africa?
Discussion questions
  1. How do you think Nelson Mandela will be remembered?
  2. Which parts of his character do you think were the most important in accomplishing what he did?
  3. How does the story of his life inspire you?
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