The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) joins the world in mourning Nelson Mandela's death and remembering the enormous contribution he made to mankind.
Nelson Mandela was born in 1918 to the son of a Xhosa tribal leader and was given the tribal name, Rolihlahla, meaning "troublemaker." His life would later be defined by his fierce dedication to ending decades of apartheid and the brutal oppression of black South Africans.
In 1952, Nelson Mandela came to national prominence in South Africa when he helped organize the first country-wide protests called the Defiance Campaign. He was a member of the African National Congress (ANC) which modeled itself after the American non-violent civil disobedience civil rights movement. The ANC led many anti-apartheid protests in South Africa, including a 1960 protest in the township of Sharpeville, which ended with the South African police shooting and killing 69 black protestors. This event became known as the Sharpeville massacre, and led to an intensification of Nelson Mandela's resolve to end oppression. In 1962, he was arrested for treason and imprisoned for inciting a strike. That imprisonment lasted 27 years.
The years of near isolation and inhuman conditions at Robben Island prison would have emotionally withered a lesser man. Mr. Mandela drew strength from that experience. He, along with other ANC leaders who were imprisoned with him, continued the struggle for freedom from behind bars. It was this unwavering sense of moral commitment and self-sacrifice that sustained the anti-apartheid movement among young black South Africans, and eventually led to a world-wide movement that shined a light on the worst government sanctioned racism seen in the world.
During the mid-1980s, many social workers joined other Americans in anti-apartheid protests that eventually resulted in the February 1990 release of Mr. Mandela from prison. The leadership, dignity, intelligence and love of country he displayed when he was freed captured the attention of the world.
In 1993, Nelson Mandela (along with South Africa President FW De Klerk) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1994, he was elected as South Africa's first black president and, through a process of national reconciliation, was instrumental in the country's bloodless transition to African leadership and shared democracy.
The National Association of Social Workers, with its own history of fighting against racism in the United States, celebrates the life and legacy of an inspirational world leader and social justice icon.
"South Africa has lost its greatest son and the world has lost one of its brightest lights. As the world mourns the death and celebrates the life of Nelson Mandela, his impact on the world will be remembered, acknowledged and fully appreciated by countless millions. Nelson Mandela taught us all that we are far more powerful than we might dare to believe, that our humanity runs deeper than we might ever imagine, and that our natural desire for freedom and justice can never be extinguished. Personally, I am incredibly thankful for his transcendent example of humanity, courage, and leadership; his life is a reflection of the very best that resides in all of us.”
– Angelo McClain, Chief Executive Officer, National Association of Social Workers