Tag: Nelson Mandela

Soweto remembers Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was a “second Jesus” for what he had done for the world, said one of the people who had gathered outside his former home in Vilakazi Street in Soweto on Friday morning.

The former president and liberation leader passed away on Thursday evening.

“We are not here to mourn but to commemorate, honour, and celebrate him because of everything he has done,” said Lerato Hlongwane of Dobsonville.

She said she felt relieved that the country’s former president had died because the pain and emotional trauma the family had been going through “was too much”.

“I think it was time that God excused him,” Hlongwane said.

She was among a handful of people who sang and danced in the chilly weather until daylight after Mandela’s death was announced.

People wishing to pay last respects gather outside former president Nelson Mandela's home on December 5 2013 in Soweto. (Pic: Gallo)
People wishing to pay last respects gather outside former president Nelson Mandela’s home on December 5 2013 in Soweto. (Pic: Gallo)

Ernestina Matshaka, a 70-year-old grandmother, brought some relief to mourners at the former president’s old house in Vilakazi Street.

Matshaka danced like a youngster to a freedom song about Mandela.

“As Africans when we are happy, depressed or mourning we sing. Singing relieves us,” she said.

“I am relieved that Madiba passed. It was unfair to expect him to jump out of his sick bed and run around like a boy.”

Matshaka said she would be very happy if South Africans could remain calm at this time and respect the legacy Mandela left. The crowd of young and old were energised by Matshaka, dancing and singing with abandon.

Police officers in about 10 vehicles kept watch.

Candles were lit and roses placed in front of the house in Vilakazi Street that was closed to traffic.

An old man kept lighting the candles the wind blew out. Throughout the night, people passed by the house to take pictures and leave messages of support.

Ofentse Nakedi, from Rockville, decided to visit the home and leave a message before going to work.

“I am very sad. My heart goes out to the Mandela family,” she said with tears in her eyes.

Nakedi said when death struck, it was custom to visit the family. “Unfortunately here you can’t really go in and say a prayer so I think leaving a message is the least we can do.”

Security guards at the house set up a large whiteboard for the public to write messages on.

People who had been singing fell silent when a car playing Johnny Clegg’s song Asimbonanga (isiZulu for “We have not seen him”) passed by.

Nelson Mandela dies at 95

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the father of the nation, died on December 5 2013 at the age of 95.

President Jacob Zuma made the announcement from the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Thursday night. He said Mandela passed away at 20:50 in his Houghton home surrounded by his wife, Graça Machel and members of his family.

Nelson Mandela. (Pic: AFP)
Nelson Mandela. (Pic: AFP)

Zuma said Mandela would have a state funeral and that the flags would fly half-mast from December 6 until after the funeral.

Zuma called on South Africans to “recall the values for which Madiba fought”.

Long illness
Mandela was hospitalised on June 8 with a recurring lung infection. Initial reports from the Presidency suggestedMandela was stable, although his condition was serious. But on June 23, the Presidency announced that Mandela’scondition had deteriorated and he was critical.

Court affidavits soon confirmed that the former statesman was on an assisted-breathing, life support machine. More reports emerged about Nelson Mandela in the days that followed, that he was in a “permanent vegetative state“, although the presidency denied these, maintaining that he was “critical yet stable”.

On his 95th birthday, July 18, President Jacob Zuma announced an improvement in Mandela’s health. Mandela wasdischarged from hospital in September and transported to his home in Houghton.  In November, his family said he remained “quite ill”, but his pneumonia had cleared up.  President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela on November 18 and said Mandela was still in a critical condition, but that he continued to respond to treatment.

On December 3 his daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, said the former president was “strong” and “courageous”, although he was “on his death bed”. Mandela’s grandson, Ndaba Mandela, said his grandfather was “not doing well”, although, “he is still with us”.

His declining health has been the subject of much speculation over the past few years. He was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer in 2001 but made a full recovery. In 2011, he was admitted to hospital following a severe respiratory infection and a year later underwent a scheduled surgery for a longstanding abdominal complaint.

Mandela was plagued by recurring lung ailments in recent years. He spent 18 days in hospital at the end of 2012 and, despite receiving home-based high care thereafter, was back in hospital in March and April 2013.

There were renewed fears for his health when he returned to hospital in June. Despite assurances from the presidency that he was in a “serious but stable” condition, South Africans began preparing themselves for the worst as Mandela’s family members flocked to Johannesburg, struggle stalwarts paid visits to the icon, and the world’s media gathered in Qunu, Houghton and at the Pretoria hospital where he was treated.

The much-loved Mandela, known affectionately as Tata Madiba, became increasingly frail and retired from public life in 2004 at the age of 85.

Mandela’s last public appearance was a brief one, at the end of the 2010 soccer World Cup. Since then, he has split his time between his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, and his ancestral home in Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

Mandela became the symbol of the struggle against apartheid after he was convicted in the Rivonia Trial of charges of sabotage and was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island.

At the end of his trial, Mandela gave a now iconic speech in which he said: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela, a key figure in the African National Congress, who helped found the party’s youth league and armed wing,Umkhonto We Sizwe, was imprisoned for 27 years before he was finally released in 1990 at the age of 71.

Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, together with former president FW De Klerk, for the “peaceful termination of the apartheid regime and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa”. A year later, he was elected president in the country’s first democratic election.

He stepped down from the presidency in 1999 after one term in office but continued with a busy public schedule. He brokered negotiations for peace in Rwanda, established the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation for educational scholarship, and launched the 46664 Aids fundraising foundation.

Idris Elba stars at SA premiere of Mandela movie

He could hardly be described as Nelson Mandela’s spitting image, but when the British actor Idris Elba arrived at the South African premiere of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom on Sunday, there was some of the awe and adulation usually reserved for the great statesman himself.

“You can see the sweat! No pressure?” joked Elba, feeling the heat of countless camera phones as he wiped perspiration from his forehead. “South Africans love their Madiba and it’s a massive responsibility to bring him alive in the best possible way.”

Playing Mandela is an acting Everest that stars including Morgan Freeman, Danny Glover, David Harewood, Terrence Howard, Clarke Peters and Sidney Poitier have attempted to scale, but none, perhaps, have quite reached the summit. Elba, who grew up in Hackney, east London, has already earned the praise of Mandela’s family.

Asked on the red carpet about the daunting task of nailing Mandela’s accent, Elba replied: “I just wanted people to recognise him when they heard the sound and say, ‘That’s Madiba!'”

The star of The Wire and Luther had almost missed the black-tie event in Johannesburg after he suffered a severe asthma attack on a South Africa-bound plane and was hospitalised. But he took another flight just in time to witness in person how South Africans judge his portrayal of the nation’s father figure in the £22-million biopic.

The premiere was held a few miles from the suburban home where Mandela (95), remains in a critical condition after spending three months in hospital with a recurring lung infection. “He’s probably watching this on the news as we speak,” Elba mused. “This is very special.”

Mandela’s absence made it a poignant gathering of his closest family, friends and comrades who mingled with their cinematic counterparts. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, his second wife, sat beside Elba during speeches at a champagne reception. Greeted by ululations, she told the hundreds of guests: “I’m just as excited as all of you are. Thank you for coming to join us in revisiting that turbulent journey that brought us here today. I have no words to describe the translation that Anant [Singh, the producer] came up with of that painful past.”

She added: “Let us just all go and sit back and revisit our history. The importance of this is that we should remember where we come from and that this freedom was hard earned and it was won at a very heavy price. We’re here to celebrate not only comrade Madiba but all the men and women who perished in the liberation war.”

Idris Elba and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at the premiere of "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" in Johannesburg. (Pic: Gallo)
Idris Elba and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at the premiere of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” in Johannesburg. (Pic: Gallo)

Mandela’s third and current wife, Graca Machel, was also present but declined to be interviewed. They were joined by the new British and US ambassadors, the Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer and long-time friends of Mandela including Ahmed Kathrada, a fellow prisoner on Robben Island, and the lawyer George Bizos, who defended Mandela from a possible death penalty half a century ago. “It brings back the memories,” Bizos said.

Singh said a smiling Mandela had asked “Is that me?” when he saw a picture of Elba made up with grey hair and wrinkled face and wearing one of his trademark Madiba shirts. “I said, Madiba, you really think it’s you?” Singh recalled.

Elba sat through more than five hours of makeup before filming began, said Singh, who spent 16 years on “a very rocky road” searching for funding, the right script and the right director. For the latter role he eventually settled on Britain’s Justin Chadwick, who admitted: “I was resistant. I’m from Manchester, I’m not from South Africa.”

Winnie is played by another Briton, the Skyfall actor Naomie Harris, but the rest of the cast are South African. The film traces the life of the anti-apartheid hero from his childhood in the rural Eastern Cape to his imprisonment on Robben Island and his election as the country’s first black president in 1994.

Mandela’s daughter Zindzi, who attended a previous private screening, said: “When I watched the movie it was a very emotional moment for me. I found it quite therapeutic. It made me confront many emotions that I’d buried and refused to acknowledge. Honestly it was very difficult … At the same time, the love that kept the family together comes through in the film. And the fact that my father left … and my mother continued the struggle.”

The 53-year-old added: “There is a scene where my sister and I are left alone at home because my mother has been locked up and my sister is looking after me, like trying to make us breakfast and so on. It made me weep and weep because it was so true. And we had those moments of loneliness where we found there is nobody for us and it was very bleak and no hope of anybody coming to our rescue. And just that scene alone took me to the various episodes in my life where I just felt the absence of a father, of a mother and of a normal family life.”

In a recorded message for the event, South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, said: “A life of inspiration. That is the best way to describe Madiba … He became an inspiration to the world as a freedom fighter, a statesman and a man of principle.

“We will tell the story of this wonderful human being, this great African for many, many generations. We are privileged to have lived in the time when he put his stamp on history. So I welcome the premiere tonight, the first public showing on African soil, of the film Long Walk to Freedom.”

The biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Elba when he joined other cast members on stage and said: “What an amazing turnout, we’re very proud. This story is so much bigger than me, than any of us, and when we were given the task to bring this story to life it was under the guidance of Justin and Anant. I’ve never worked with such a committed set of actors. In true spirit, these are my comrades.”

The movie will be released in South Africa on 28 November and the UK on 3 January.

Mandela epic sweeps Toronto film fest off its feet

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the film about the life of former president Nelson Mandela, received standing ovations and rave reviews when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday.

“The film received an unprecedented eight-minute standing ovation coupled with a rapturous applause at the festival venue, the Roy Thomson Hall, resulting in social media platforms buzzing with praise for the film,” the producers said in a statement on Monday.

Producer Anant Singh, who owns the rights to the autobiography on which the film is based, said the making of film was a long journey.

“I am delighted that I finally got it done. It has been worth the wait and also worth all of the hard work that went into it over all of those years.”

With a script written by writer and screenwriter William Nicholson – who has written Sarafina!Les Misérables and Gladiator – this adaptation of Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom is said to be an “epic sweep” in the film industry.

Singh began communicating with Mandela while he was still in prison and acquired the rights to the autobiography in 1996.

The film features Idris Elba, who plays Mandela; the UK’s Naomie Harris (SkyfallPirates of the Caribbean) as the struggle activist’s wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela; and South African actors Terry Pheto (TsotsiCatch a Fire); Carl Beukes (IsidingoJozi) and Gys de Villiers (VerraaiersBinnelanders), to name a few.

The film will be released in South Africa in November and thereafter released to the rest of the world.


Mandela the boxer inspires Soweto gym-goers

In a sweaty township gym where Nelson Mandela once trained as a young boxer, athletes are still pumping iron today, inspired by the peace icon’s example as he fights for his life in hospital.

In the early 1950s, a youthful Mandela worked out on week nights at the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre, or the “D.O.” as it’s still affectionately known.

Spartan and slightly run down, the walls ooze with the intermingled history of sport, community life and the decades-long fight against apartheid oppression.

It was here that Mandela came to lose himself in sport to take his mind off liberation politics.

A young Nelson Mandela in boxing gear. (Gallo)
A young Nelson Mandela in boxing gear. (Gallo)

Nestled in the heart of South Africa’s largest township just south of Johannesburg, the community centre was also where famous African songbirds like Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie first performed.

The 1976 uprising against the imposition of the Afrikaans language in black schools were planned from the D.O. as Mandela and other leaders languished in apartheid jails.

“Here, look, these are the very same weights Madiba used for training,” proud gym instructor Sinki Langa (49) says.

“They have lasted all these years,” he said as he added another set to a bar his fellow trainee Simon Mzizi (30) was using to furiously bench-press, sweat dripping down his face.

Nearby, other fitness enthusiasts worked out to the tune of soothing music which, unusually for a gym, included opera.

The six metre-high 'Shadow Boxer' sculpture in Johannesburg's inner city depicts Nelson Mandela as a young boxer. (AFP)
The 6m-high ‘Shadow Boxer’ sculpture in Johannesburg’s inner city was unveiled in honour of Nelson Mandela in May 2013. (AFP)

‘Drenched with sweet memories’
The D.O. – or Soweto YMCA as it is called today – opened its doors in 1948, the same year the apartheid white nationalist government came to power.

Built with funds donated by Colonel James Donaldson, a self-made entrepreneur and staunch supporter of the now governing African National Congress, the D.O. centre includes a hall, and several sparsely furnished smaller rooms like the one where Mandela sparred as a young man.

Today the gym is housed in an adjacent hall, which was the original building on the grounds erected in 1932.

Mandela joined the D.O. in around 1950, often taking his oldest 10-year-old son Thembi with him.

In a letter to his daughter Zinzi, while on Robben Island where he spent 18 of his 27 years in jail, Mandela recalled his days at the gym.

“The walls … of the DOCC are drenched with the sweet memories that will delight me for years,” he wrote in the letter, published in his 2010 book Conversations with Myself.

“When we trained in the early 50s the club included amateur and professional boxers as well as wrestlers,” Mandela wrote to his daughter, who never received the letter because it was snatched by his jailers.

Training at the D.O. was tough and included sparring, weight-lifting, road-running and push-ups.

“We used to train for four days, from Monday to Thursday and then break off,” Mandela told journalist Richard Stengel in the early 1990s, while writing his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.

When he was handed a life sentence in 1964, Mandela kept up the harsh regime of his training to stay fit and healthy.

“I was very fit, and in prison, I felt very fit indeed. So I used to train in prison … just as I did outside,” Mandela said in a transcript of his conversation with Stengel, given to AFP by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

Mandela was eventually released from jail in 1990 and in 1994 he was elected South Africa’s first black president.

‘He’s a fighter’
In Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela admitted he was “never an outstanding boxer”.

“I did not enjoy the violence of boxing as much as the science of it… It was a way of losing myself in something that was not the struggle,” Mandela wrote.

“Back in those days, boxing was very popular – it was part of that culture,” Shakes Tshabalala (81) who has been involved with the centre from the start told AFP.

Nelson Mandela (C) pretends to fight former US world middleweight champion Marvin Hagler (R) in Cape Town on November 12 1997 while former five-time world champion Roberto "Hands of Stone" Duran (L) of the US looks on. (AFP)
Nelson Mandela (C) pretends to fight former US world middleweight champion Marvin Hagler (R) in Cape Town on November 12 1997 while former five-time world champion Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran (L) of the US looks on. (AFP)

Pugilism always played a big part in Mandela’s life. At his house-turned-museum at 8115 Orlando West, boxing-related items like the WBC World Championship belt donated by Sugar Ray Leonard are on display.

Back at the centre, a new generation of youngsters are training.

Although few of them box today, they draw their inspiration from Mandela’s example in healthy living.

While the ailing 94-year-old statesman is battling a recurring lung infection, the gym-goers firmly believe the liberation icon will return for one last round.

“Mandela was a sportsman. This is why today he is still alive,” said gym instructor Langa.

“I am worried about him, but I know he’ll win. He’s a fighter,” he said.

Jan Hennop for AFP