It’s easy to get caught up in the celebrations and acknowledge the fact that he was President from 1994 to 1999. What must not be lost, however, is why he became a household name. He was born in South Africa in 1918 and by the late 1940s became an opponent of apartheid and became active in the African National Congress that was moving to end apartheid. He was arrested by South African authorities in 1963 and charged with sabotage, which was easier to prove but carried the same sentence as treason. He was found guilty and expected to be executed, but was instead sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964.
He stayed in prison for the next 26 years. I learned of his case in the early 1980s as the global drumbeats grew louder to end apartheid. Frankly, I expected the government of South Africa and the presidency of P.W. Botha (1916-2006) to continue to not care about public opinion and keep themselves in power. OK, never underestimate the power of conversion. Mr. Mandela was released from prison in 1990. Four years later he was elected president. Indeed, the world had turned upside down.
Happy Birthday. Thank you for your life and devotion to justice.