Alexander Ewen: Nelson Mandela's passing leaves void in world

Alexander Ewen pays tribute to Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa who died on December 5 at the age of 95:
Sadly, today there does not exist anyone of the moral stature of an Albert Einstein to eulogize the passing of South Africa’s liberator and president, Nelson Mandela. Born a member of the royal family of the Xhosa indigenous nation, Mandela’s struggle to end South Africa’s brutal Apartheid system–mostly conducted behind bars during his 27 years in prison–made him such a global symbol for human rights that the government was forced to set him free in 1990.

Shortly after his release from prison, he came to America to fundraise for his organization, the African National Congress (ANC), now the dominant political party in South Africa. His 10-day visit was a sensation, drawing millions of American from all walks of life to see him speak. Among those who attended his rallies were thousands of Indigenous American who had been inspired by him. Speaking to a massive crowd at the Oakland Coliseum on the very last day of his tour, Mandela deviated from his written remarks to acknowledge the struggle of “America’s first peoples, the Indians.” He had been bombarded by requests from Indians to speak with him and he apologized for not having the time to sit down and talk. Mandela said, “…but I can assure the leaders of the American Indian community that I will return in October.”

Such was his appeal and international standing that Mandela had become the voice for the aspirations of everyone who was oppressed, downtrodden, or poor. But in turn, Indians had been supporting Mandela’s struggle for freedom long before he became an international celebrity. From the late 1960s through the 1980s, the fight for Indian rights was often seen as an international fight for the rights of all people, South Africa included. It was often pointed out how Africa’s “homeland” system was modeled after the Indian reservation system of the late 19th century. In the 1970s and 80s, rallies and protest for American prisoners, such as Leonard Peltier, would inevitably feature images and banners seeking the freedom of Nelson Mandela as well.

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Alexander Ewen: Nelson Mandela (1918-2013): The End of an Era (Indian Country Today 12/6)

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