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I am reading at the moment Nelson Mandela’s hugely inspiring Long Walk To Freedom, and what a book it is! Just as Einstein said of Gandhi, that generations later, few would believe such a man had walked the earth, what is amazing is Mandela’s lack of bitterness and willingness to forgive those who had oppressed his people for so many decades and taken away a good portion of his own life by making him a prisoner on the now-famous Robben Island.
Sad as it is for the world to lose this inspiring figure who could bring people of all kinds together in such a positive manner, his legacy to the world is South Africa itself, in the form of a united nation willing to reconcile with its past, even as it struggles to build a more inclusive future.
While many of us may be familiar with Mandela’s role in the South African anti-apartheid movement and subsequent nation-building, not all of us may know that in the later period of his life, he was involved with many other causes including the safety and rights of women and children in South African society and HIV/AIDS awareness and dignity for AIDS sufferers. Mandela played a big role in the new Constitution of South Africa created in 1997 that explicitly guarantees women’s right to and autonomy over their own bodies.
Reading more about this period of South African history, I thought it would be nice to put together from various speeches and writings, some of Madiba’s thoughts about the rights and dignity of women.
“For every woman and girl violently attacked, we reduce our humanity. For every woman forced into unprotected sex because men demand this, we destroy dignity and pride. Every woman who has to sell her life for sex we condemn to a lifetime in prison. For every moment we remain silent, we conspire against our women. For every woman infected by HIV, we destroy a generation.”
” Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression. ”
“As a tribute to the legions of women who navigated the path of fighting for justice before us, we ought to imprint in the supreme law of the land, firm principles upholding the rights of women. The women themselves and the whole of society, must make this a prime responsibility.”
“Domestic violence, rape, abuse of women remain disgraceful blots on the reputation of a country that is called a miracle nation.”
“I’ve never regarded women as in any way less competent than men.”
In his personal life, although he went through a painful, somewhat controversial separation from his first wife, Winnie Mandela, he has acknowledged the enormous support she gave him through the darkest years of his life, besides the positive influence of other women, especially his mother.
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