Loss of an icon: a look back into the life of one of history’s greatest heroes

 “The greatest father there ever was.”

A statement seen over and over again in every single news publication to describe Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid leader and freedom fighter who was widely considered to be one of the greatest revolutionary heroes, who passed away at the age of 95.

‘The father of the nation’ as described by the people of South Africa, is said to be solely responsible for piloting the country from a chaotic state of racial segregation into a multi-racial democracy. He died last Thursday, after battling continuous lung infection cases over a number of years and finally succumbing to the illness in his own home. His death has triggered an enormous outpouring of grief within his home country, as well as a long period of lamentation on a global scale.

He was the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, along with several other awards and honours, and subsequently became the president of South Africa from 1994 until 1999, when he retired from office.

As one of the many readers of Mandela’s famous autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, I can state with absolute certainty that the obstacles that we normally face throughout our lives are incomparable to what Nelson Mandela had to go through during his upbringing, as well as his later years.

His father died from a disease that was believed to be lung-related when Mandela was only 9 years old. When he shifted to a school in Thembuland, he was ridiculed for being a ‘country-boy’ and was a subject of constant verbal abuse by his peers.

During his first university years, he took part in a certain boycott against some of the services inside campus which led to him being suspended, and ultimately caused his departure from the university without acquiring a degree.

He then switched to the University of Witwatersrand to study law, and was once against subject to verbal abuse by people of other races due to the fact that he was the only black person in his class. This caused him to seek refuge in studying politics by himself. Once again, he left without a degree after failing his classes. Despite which, during this period, he was a member of the African National Congress (ANC) as a part of the executive committee.

Once he worked his way up to the position of President at the ANC, he led a number of peaceful protests against apartheid in the country. Nevertheless, his peaceful approach over the years became increasingly violent, and eventually he was arrested for charges of treason. He spent the next 27 years in prison, where yet again he was taunted, abused, blackmailed and isolated by the inmates as well as the security staff.

 His prison cell in Robben Island

 He suffered serious illnesses due to extremely poor conditions of the prison facilities. Yet these years were what Mandela claimed to be his ‘healing years’. It gave him time to ponder and reflect on what had to be done if he were to bring change in the country. After his release, he successfully led his party to ending the apartheid rule, starting a new era of the Republic of South Africa.

His struggles and sacrifices have been held in high regard amongst millions around the globe. “A great light has gone out in the world,” said the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron.  The Security Council for the United Nations stood for a minute of silence in New York, while supporters mourned the death of their hero by placing flowers outside South African High Commissions in various countries.


“He no longer belongs to us – he belongs to the ages.” -Obama on Mandela’s death


The world may not see a greater or wiser individual for quite a few decades.

Talha Saleh Khan

"Zeal without knowledge is fire without light." - Thomas Fuller, 17th century historian

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