One of Nelson Mandela’s most famous quotes reads: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Apart from being the first democratically-elected president of South Africa, an even more meaningful title was bestowed upon Mandela – that of Father of the Nation.  Throughout his life, both as an activist and later as president, Mandela fought tirelessly to improve the lives of millions of South Africans. Although he faced countless challenges, including oppression and imprisonment, he was not to be deterred. Instead, he courageously waged war on racism, gender equality, and subjugation, becoming one of the most beloved world leaders in history.

It has been nearly 7 years since Nelson Mandela died in 2013 at the ripe age of 95.  To this day, however, his legacy continues to resonate with the nation.

Children are uplifted, not oppressed

On 3 June 1995 Mandela said: “Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation. They will be the leaders of our country, the creators of our national wealth who care for and protect our people.”

Throughout his life, and particularly while he was president, Mandela campaigned relentlessly for the rights of children.  His passion for children stemmed, in part, from his own personal struggles and experiences. During his time as an undergraduate, Mandela was one of only a handful of non-white South Africans to earn a Bachelor’s degree. He also saw first-hand how gender and racial disparity and poverty kept millions of children world-wide out of school.

During his time as president, he graciously donated a third of his salary to the fund.

It was during the course of 1995 that Mandela established the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund with the purpose of addressing many of the challenges faced by the children of South Africa. During his time as president, he graciously donated a third of his salary to the fund. In 1999, after stepping down as president, Mandela established the Nelson Mandela Foundation. In 2004, the foundation launched the Schools for Africa campaign in partnership with UNICEF which promotes quality education in 13 countries across the African continent. In 2009, Nelson Mandela received the World Children’s Prize Decade Child Rights Hero award in recognition of his unwavering commitment to the children of South Africa.

While Mandela’s passion for children certainly paved the way in terms of improved education, many of the nation’s youth are still subjected to inhumane living conditions. In honor of Mandela’s legacy, let us all work together to secure a brighter and safer future for our children.

Women receive the credit they deserve

Mandela’s quest to eradicate oppression did not end with the dismantling of apartheid. He knew that in order to fully emancipate South Africans, all forms of discrimination had to be abolished.  He was particularly passionate about ending the global oppression of women and dedicated much of his time and efforts to this cause.

He also declared 9 August as National Women’s Day – in celebration of all the women who bravely fought against apartheid.  

During his first State of the Nation address as president in 1994, Mandela committed to freeing the women of the country, calling for equality across all systems. He also declared 9 August as National Women’s Day – in celebration of all the women who bravely fought against apartheid.

During a speech on World Women’s Day in 1996, the nation’s beloved president said: “As long as women are bound by poverty and as long as they are looked down upon, human rights will lack substance.”  One area in which Mandela fervently campaigned for women, was politics. In 1990, 4 years prior to the first democratic elections, women held a dismal 2.7% of legislative positions in the country. After becoming president, the number of female representatives in government skyrocketed to 27%.  Last year, for the first time ever, the South African cabinet consisted of 50% women – a feat that would undoubtedly have brought a big smile to Mandela’s face.

Voting rights for all

It was during his first-ever television interview as an anti-Apartheid activist back in 1961 that Nelson Mandela made one thing very clear:  Black South Africans wanted political independence.   He made this one of the primary goals of his movement and stated: “The Africans require, want the franchise, the basis of One Man One Vote — they want political independence.” During the interview, which was conducted by Brian Widlake, Mandela articulated that the mission to secure voting rights for black South Africans should not be dependent on race or education levels.

Sadly, his dream of an all-inclusive voting system would not materialize until the collapse of apartheid. In 1994, during the country’s first democratic elections, nearly 90% of qualifying South Africans cast their ballots, electing Mandela as the country’s first black president. While being able to, finally, make an ‘X’ on Election Day may seem trivial to many, it gave a voice (and hope) to millions of oppressed South Africans of colour.

In the days leading up to what would have been Mandela’s 102nd birthday, we can’t help but be grateful for the immeasurable differences one man has made in our country.

We proudly salute you, Madiba.

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