Today is the birthday (1918) of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was South Africa’s first black chief executive, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalized racism, poverty and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997. Internationally, Mandela was Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999.
Mandela was a Xhosa born to the Thembu royal family. Mandela attended Fort Hare University and the University of Witwatersrand, where he studied law. Living in Johannesburg, he became involved in anti-colonial politics, joining the ANC and becoming a founding member of its Youth League. After the Afrikaner minority government of the National Party established apartheid in 1948, he rose to prominence in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign, was appointed superintendent of the organization’s Transvaal chapter and presided over the 1955 Congress of the People.
Working as a lawyer, he was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and, with the ANC leadership, was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961. Influenced by Marxism, he secretly joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) and sat on its Central Committee. Although initially committed to non-violent protest, in association with the SACP he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In 1962, he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.
Mandela served 27 years in prison, initially on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. An international campaign lobbied for his release, which was granted in 1990 amid escalating civil strife. Mandela joined negotiations with Nationalist President F. W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections in 1994, in which he led the ANC to victory and became South Africa’s first black president. He published his autobiography in 1995.
During his tenure in the Government of National Unity he invited other political parties to join the cabinet, and promulgated a new constitution. He also created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. While continuing the former government’s liberal economic policy, his administration also introduced measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty, and expand healthcare services. Internationally, he acted as mediator between Libya and the United Kingdom in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial, and oversaw military intervention in Lesotho. He declined to run for a second term, and was succeeded by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. Mandela became an elder statesman, focusing on charitable work in combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Mandela was a controversial figure for much of his life. Denounced as a communist terrorist by critics, he nevertheless gained international acclaim for his activism, having received more than 250 honors, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Soviet Order of Lenin. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba, or as Tata (“Father”), and is often described as the “Father of South Africa.” Here’s a series of quotes I like:
I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.
Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.
A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.
I hate race discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations. I have fought it all during my life; I fight it now, and will do so until the end of my days.
When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.
A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.
I’ll say a giant AMEN !!! to the last quote because that’s exactly what I do think. I also do not know of any powerful figure – many of whom I have written about here – who was not considered “controversial” in their day and still. That’s the nature of passion, and I strongly believe in passion.
Mandela also endears himself to me because his favorite dish was tripe. This is attested many times. So I don’t need a feeble excuse to give you a tripe recipe. South African recipes for tripe do tend to be a bit bland for me, although they do make sure you taste the tripe (and not much else). It reminds me of asking a Maasai cook once how to prepare ox tripe and she said, essentially, wash it and clean it, and boil it in water for a long time. Some recipes are slightly more complex. For example, it is common in South Africa to cook tripe with pieces of ox intestines, then add onions and potatoes towards the end of the cooking. Not strictly to my taste, although some cooks add curry powder as well, which gives it a bit of a lift. It’s usually served with samp which is rather like mushy hominy.
Here’s a South African recipe that is rather to my liking, akin to Italian dishes but without seasoning.
South AfricanTripe and Tomato Sauce
1.5 kg tripe, pre-cooked and cubed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
115g can tomato paste
410g can chopped tomatoes
250ml (1 cup) dry wine
2 tbsp sugar (optional)
Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Sauté the onions, briefly until soft, then add the carrots and celery. Sauté for 5 minutes longer then add the tomato paste, tomatoes, wine, and sugar (if used). Simmer gently until the sauce has thickened slightly.
Add the tripe and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes.
Serve with samp, either as a base, or on the side.