Nelson Mandela, a world icon of peace and resilience, passed away Thursday evening (South African time). Troubled with a recurring lung infection, and ailing health, the former South African President remained an inspiration to millions even as he remained out of the public eye after the 2010 World Cup. Dr. Maya Angelou paid tribute to Nelson Mandela with “His Day is Done” on behalf of the American people in his memory.
For 27 years, Nelson Mandela was jailed for fighting against apartheid, and later became South Africa’s first black president.
Affectionately called Madiba, Nelson Mandela is often called by many names. The Nelson Mandela Foundation breaks-down the connection behind each of them:
Rolihlahla – This is Mr Mandela’s birth name: it is an isiXhosa name which means “pulling the branch of a tree”, but colloquially it means “troublemaker”. His father gave him this name.
Nelson – This name was given to him on his first day at school by his teacher, Miss Mdingane. Giving African children English names was a custom among Africans in those days and was influenced by British colonials who could not easily, and often would not, pronounce African names. It is unclear why Miss Mdingane chose the name “Nelson” for Mr Mandela.
Madiba – This is the name of the clan of which Mr Mandela is a member. A clan name is much more important than a surname as it refers to the ancestor from which a person is descended. Madiba was the name of a Thembu chief who ruled in the Transkei in the 18th century. It is considered very polite to use someone’s clan name.
Tata – This isiXhosa word means “father” and is a term of endearment that many South Africans use for Mr Mandela. Since he is a father figure to many, they call him Tata regardless of their own age.
Khulu – Mr Mandela is often called “Khulu”, which means great, paramount, grand. The speaker means “Great One” when referring to Mr Mandela in this way. It is also a shortened form of the isiXhosa word “uBawomkhulu” for “grandfather”.
Dalibhunga – This is the name Mr Mandela was given at the age of 16 once he had undergone initiation, the traditional Xhosa rite of passage into manhood. It means “creator or founder of the council” or “convenor of the dialogue”. The correct use of this name when greeting Mr Mandela is “Aaah! Dalibhunga”.
Current South African President, Jacob Zuma confirmed news of his passing, stating:
My Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the founding President of our democratic nation, has departed.
He is now resting. He is now at peace. Our nation has lost its greatest son.
Our people have lost a father.
Although we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world.
His humility, his compassion, and his humanity earned him their love. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family. To them we owe a debt of gratitude.
This is the moment of our deepest sorrow.
Our nation has lost its greatest son.
Yet, what made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.
This is indeed the moment of our deepest sorrow. Yet it must also be the moment of our greatest determination.
A determination to live as Madiba has lived, to strive as Madiba has strived and to not rest until we have realized his vision of a truly united South Africa, a peaceful and prosperous Africa, and a better world.
We will always love you Madiba! May your soul rest in peace.
God Bless Africa. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.
Upon news of his passing, President Obama delivered a statement from the White House Briefing Room.
I am deeply saddened to have lost such an enduring symbol of freedom and liberty; Nelson Mandela was an elder statesman who embodied the very essence of a servant-leader. History cannot contain the lasting impact of such an extraordinary life. Rather, his exceptionalism will live in the hearts and minds of those of us who were fortunate enough to have witnessed his greatness. There are few words capable of encapsulating the measure of such a masterful life, except to impart this departing dispatch: “Well done Madiba, well done!”
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) reflected on Mandela in her statement, sharing:
I am deeply saddened by the passing of Nelson Mandela, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his friends, family, and the people of South Africa. His legacy will live on forever in how we live our lives and fight for freedom and justice in a multi-racial society. We must pause and remember Madiba in his greatness; he used his life not for himself, but for the good of his country and the good of the world, and his spirit will live on.
During Mr. Mandela’s trip to the United States in 1990, it was a great honor to be a member of the host committee that welcomed him to my district of Oakland, California. One of my proudest moments as a member of Congress was when I led the effort to remove Mr. Mandela and the ANC from the U.S. Terrorist Watch list in time for his 90th birthday.
Mr. Mandela exuded a larger-than-life presence and a humble spirit that was remarkable; he is my hero and an inspiration to us all. While this earth will miss the physical presence of Nelson Mandela, his indomitable nature, his gentle spirit, and overwhelming smile will remain with us all. My heart is heavy as we mourn the loss and celebrate the life of this great warrior.
Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and The RLJ Companies, reflects:
President Mandela is a legendary figure for all time and for all mankind. He exhibited leadership and humanitarian qualities that, I would say, no other person has shown since the beginning of time. I had the humbling pleasure of being in his presence on several occasions and immediately recognized his ability to show strength and compassion in forgiveness that helped him forged a nation of freedom out of the fire of racial prejudice and apartheid. Rest in peace Madiba. Your long walk to freedom is over.