All along his fight against the apartheid regime, Nelson Mandela recognised and supported women's determination in tirelessly confronting injustice, inequalities, violence to build a new South Africa. As the first President of democratic South Africa, he decisively acted for gender equality and women empowerment.
Nelson Mandela would have turned 100 on 18 July this year. Together with one of the key women in Government, Ms Lindiwe Zulu, we will pay tribute to his important legacy. Mandela, as both a freedom fighter and a Head of State, continues to inspire scores of people all over the world. Youssou N'Dour, with his world acclaimed talent, will sing from his heart to honour one of the most remarkable human beings in contemporary history.
- Even during the armed struggle against Apartheid, Nelson Mandela was focused on the need to rebuild South Africa through reconciliation.
- He was one of a generation of freedom fighters such as Walter and Albertina Sisulu or Steve Biko who showed unwavering commitment to justice in the face of brutal violence.
- His legacy lives on in South Africa and beyond as he has inspired generations of people fighting injustice.
- The fight for gender equality accompanied armed struggle.
Apartheid was a cruel and vicious regime not simply because of the indiscriminate and brutal violence it used against its enemies, of whom there were many, but because it was a model for how to organise society by excluding a majority of its people from political, economic and social life.
Justice, equality and dignity, including equality between genders, therefore become the main means of resistance, alongside the armed struggle. Nelson Mandela understood the crucial importance of values in fighting an unjust regime, which is one of the reasons – together with his tenacity and unbreakable will – why he continues to inspire people 100 years after his birth.
The end of Apartheid was followed by a difficult but exhilarating period of rebuilding society and politics. With Nelson Mandela as its first president, democratic South Africa took great strides toward gender equality and more generally, reconciliation. In 1996, it adopted one of the world’s most progressive constitutions, which enshrined the principle of gender equality as a guiding value for all of South Africa.
This reflected the struggle against Apartheid, which was fought by men and women together. This legacy of a just, inclusive, democratic, free and non-sexist South Africa continues to inspire men and women in the country and beyond.
One of the many women whose tireless dedication to the struggle against Apartheid was critical in bringing down the hated regime was Albertina Sisulu, who was a hero in her own right. When the regime strangled political life in the country it took women such as Sisulu to keep the struggle going. They never wavered when it came to confronting the power of the gun.
Mandela’s personal qualities – his self-effacement, his dedication to the cause and to the values he believed in, and his commitment to equality between men and women – made him uniquely placed to lead the liberation struggle. This was the case even from prison, but continued later when he led the country on its democratic transition. He understood the importance of reaching out to the enemy and of forming alliances with friends abroad.
This served the country well when Apartheid was defeated and many feared large-scale violence and retribution against the former regime. From the earliest stages of the armed struggle, Mandela understood that the question was not simply to win at all costs but to win in a way that would make reconciliation possible, and would ensure a better future for his country.
Mandela believed that resistance to Apartheid had to remain principled and focused on values if there was to be a chance of reconciliation after its defeat.