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Cuba on Mandela

Mandela, a life devoted to equality

• “I always treasured the ideals of a democratic and free society, a society in which everyone would live in peace and enjoy equal opportunities. This is the ideal situation that I want to create and something that I really want to transform into reality. If I have to sacrifice my life to achieve such a society then I am ready to die.”
—Nelson Mandela, 1961

Julio Martínez Molina

Mandela experienced 27 extremely hard years in appalling conditions in prison. Nevertheless, he never retreated from his convictions, his determination to free his people from racism.

In prison, he became a legend, an icon for progressive forces of the world. That aura did not suit the apartheid South African government which, in 1984, offered to release him in exchange for his isolation in one of the Bantustans created by descendants of the Boers (whites of Dutch descent), as allegedly independent entities.

President Pieter Botha proposed Mandela’s release on the basis of his renouncing the armed struggle, in which he directed his supporters, convinced that this was the only way to promote change in the African context, because very little could be done through a peaceful struggle in the style of Gandhi, as initially adopted by his movement.

His decisive response was, “Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”

At that time, Zinzi Mandela read a letter sent by her father from prison to a huge crowd gathered in Soweto’s Jabulani stadium. It read, “I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated…”

The human stature of Mandela was such that even his adversaries acknowledged it. Botha himself, who had extended Mandela’s sentence when the latter refused to accept his untoward offer, once stated that his first meeting with Mandela was impressive and his words unforgettable. There was no bitterness or desire for revenge in them, not a trace of hatred. At no moment during his speech, did he attempt to exploit or mention the fact that he had been in prison for 27 years, he commented.

Faced with the weight of public opinion against the unjustified incarceration of a political prisoner for longer than anyone could have imagined, and the decisive pressure of the Cuban-Angolan victory in the African southern cone, President Frederick de Klerk was finally left with no alternative than to establish the bases for eliminating the segregationist regime and release the eminent prisoner from the maximum security prison on Robben Island.

Mandela left prison in 1990, retaining his energy, spirit and daring to continue the struggle.

A year later, he visited Cuba, where he acknowledged the decisive contribution made by Cuban internationalists in Africa. Two years later, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In a little over 40 years, he has received close to 120 awards and decorations.

Nelson Mandela became the first South African President democratically elected under universal suffrage. A man loved and admired by his people, he is known in South Africa as Madiba, an honorary title adopted by the elders of his family clan, and also as Mkhulu (grandfather).

He retired from the Presidency in 1999 and from public life in 2004, although only in a partially, as it was inevitable that the agenda of a man such as Mandela would be full; in spite of his age, he wished to attend all the public events he could.

Mandela has been active and faithful to his ideals, always consistent


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