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Marking Nelson Mandela's 100th Birthday

Jul 18, 2018
Originally published on July 18, 2018 6:04 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Today is the 100th birthday of the late Nelson Mandela. Mandela was South Africa's first democratically elected and first black president. Now, this day is being commemorated and celebrated all over the country and beyond. And there's a new book out. It features many of Mandela's previously unpublished letters from prison, letters to his family, his friends, his associates. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been reading his letters and reflecting on Mandela's legacy.

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NELSON MANDELA: We must act together as a united people for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Nelson Mandela's distinctive voice rallying South Africans and preaching reconciliation, togetherness and justice. Today Mandela would have turned 100, and his message would likely be the same.

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MANDELA: Let there be justice for all.

QUIST-ARCTON: Justice for all South Africans, regardless of race or creed. Young South Africans recognize that huge sacrifices were made by Mandela and other freedom fighters who fought apartheid, though many ask whether the struggle for freedom by their elders has borne fruit for younger generations in the way their leaders had hoped. Barack Obama was invited to give the annual lecture honoring Nelson Mandela and spoke yesterday in Johannesburg. Obama says Mandela remains a shining beacon and example of selfless service to others.

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BARACK OBAMA: I believe in Nelson Mandela's vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multiracial democracy built on the premise that all people are created equal...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: ...And they're endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.

QUIST-ARCTON: Obama mounted a passionate defense of democracy and, without mentioning names, warned against the rise of strongman politics, in stark contrast to Mandela's consensual style of leadership.

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OBAMA: Now you are hearing people talk about the end of democracy and the triumph of tribalism and the strongman. We have to resist that cynicism.

QUIST-ARCTON: Here in London, one of Nelson Mandela's granddaughters, Zamaswazi Dlamini-Mandela, has been promoting a new book about her grandfather as part of the centenary celebrations. Dlamini-Mandela wrote the foreword to "The Prison Letters Of Nelson Mandela," hitherto mostly unpublished letters he wrote to family friends and others from jail between 1962 and 1990.

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ZAMASWAZI DLAMINI-MANDELA: (Reading) When I returned to South Africa in July 1962, I saw you and Zindzi twice. And this was the last time we met. I have been longing to see you ever since. You will be able to pay me a visit in 1975, when you will have turned 16. But I am growing impatient, and the coming five years seem longer than eternity.

QUIST-ARCTON: Dlamini-Mandela reading one of her grandfather's letters to his daughter Zenani in 1971 in a promotional video for the new book. This often intimate and touching collection of Mandela's missives gives us a deeper insight into how he struggled being an absent father and husband, writing to his loved ones from his prison cell.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, London.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SEVEN MILE JOURNEY'S "PASSENGER'S LOG, THE UNITY FRACTIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.