6. Mandela Was Nearly Blind Because of His Time on Robben Island
Nelson Mandela had been forced for years to split rocks that reflected the sunlight so strongly that it severely damaged his eyes. He developed what is commonly referred to as “snow blindness” and frequently wore sunglasses because of how much light hurt his eyes.
While in prison, Mandela had learned to speak Afrikaans, the language of whites in South Africa, and had studied history and law. When he became the head of the ANC, he made it a multiracial institution and engineered a ceasefire, known as the Pretoria Minute, for the violence with which the ANC was engaging. He wanted to transform the party into something that could be a viable force in post-apartheid politics.
4. Nelson Mandela Won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993
Few people expected that apartheid in South Africa would fall, but when it did, many credited Nelson Mandela. As the leader of the ANC, he continued to work to secure black rights in South Africa and end the violence on both sides of the apartheid lines by encouraging reconciliation. For his efforts, in 1993, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1994, apartheid in South Africa officially ended when, for the first time in over 300 years, black South Africans were allowed to participate in their government. When the first-ever democratic elections were held, the ANC became the dominant party in the new parliament. Nelson Mandela was elected president, and he won with a landslide victory . He was 75 years old.
2. Mandela Helped Mediate the Civil War in Burundi
The entire continent of Africa has faced immense challenges resulting from colonization and the transition to national governments within newly-formed states. Burundi had been engaged in an ethnic conflict since 1993; wanting South Africa to be a model for the rest of the continent, he helped broker a peace settlement between the warring Hutus and Tutsis.
Today, Nelson Mandela is more than a hero for South Africans. He represents an entire movement of peacebuilding and reconciliation for African countries struggling to find their way in a postcolonial war. Mandela used soft diplomacy to address human rights violations by military juntas and tried to mediate an agreement to end the ongoing conflict in the Congo. Though much remains to be done, he set an example that the rest of the continent, and the world, should follow.
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