Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first democratic president of post-apartheid South Africa, has passed away at his home in Johannesburg after months of battling a recurring lung infection. Current South African President Jacob Zuma addressed the nation this evening announcing Mandela’s death and honoring his legacy, by stating, “Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time.” Mandela was 95 years old.
Mandela was revered as the symbol of the struggle against apartheid following his sentence to life imprisonment on Robben Island. He was released in 1990 at the age of 71. Following his release from prison, he negotiated and led the peaceful transition from white-minority apartheid rule to a free and open democratic system in South Africa.
Mandela, the leader of the African National Congress, won a resounding victory in the post-apartheid democratic elections in 1994. As president, Mandela worked tirelessly to unify a deeply racially divided society, choosing reconciliation over vengeance. Mandela led by example to establish racial unity with what South Africans refer to as the “Rainbow Nation.”
Even years after Mandela’s departure from public life, his legacy remains emblematic of transcending racial division. He served as an inspirational leader to many, but also as a role model for nascent nations around the world transitioning to democracy. He served only one presidential term, from 1994-1999, setting an example for liberation leaders across the continent to give life to new leadership and make the way for future democratic leaders.
Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with former apartheid President F.W. De Klerk for the “peaceful termination of the apartheid regime and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.”
While the apartheid regime was the symbol of racism and oppression, Mandela was the symbol of compassion and equality. The world has truly lost a transformative leader. Our hearts are with South Africans today.