Former South Africa president Nelson Mandela has died

December 5, 2013
Follow The JC on Twitter

Nelson Mandela has died at the age of 95.

The former South African President died at home on Thursday.

Mr Mandela was a world leader who fought against racial segregation in South Africa.

Gaining international attention, Mr Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government in 1963.

The president of the African National Congress spent 27 years at Robben Island prison and his release was perceived as a historic moment for the civil rights movement. In 1993 Mr Mandela and President FW de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Throughout his life Mr Mandela maintained a close relationship with the South African Jewish community.

Four days before his inauguration as South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994, Mr Mandela attended a shabbat service at the Green and Sea Hebrew congregation in Cape Town – the biggest synagogue in the southern hemisphere at the time – where he thanked the Jewish community for their contributions to the country.

In 1996 Mr Mandela wrote in a Rosh Hashana message: “The Jewish community has made a major contribution to the well-being of South Africa – enriching our culture, helping build our economy and giving impetus to our intellectual achievements.”

He continued: “The community has given our nation many who participated in the struggle for democracy, some at great cost and sacrifice.”

In 1998 Mr Mandela wrote in a Pesach greeting: “To realise our dreams we need the talents, the vision and the drive of our Jewish community. We appreciate the efforts of the Jewish community to better the lives of all our communities.”

Mr Mandela was good friends with then South African chief rabbi Cyril Harris. At the chief rabbi’s ten year anniversary banquet in 1997 Mr Mandela said that the chief will go down in history as a leader “who lent his hand in the efforts to establish democracy, to heal divisions and to start the process of building a better life.”

In a JC interview with the chief rabbi in 2004, Mr Harris said: “Of all the friendships, that as chief rabbi I have been most fortunate to enjoy, the most special is with Nelson Mandela.”

Mr Mandela was a principal patron of Tikkun, a charity cofounded by Rabbi Harris. The NGO provides education, health and social services to children, youth and their families through centres in South African Townships.

In January 2001 hundreds of people watched Mr Mandela open the Jewish museum in Cape Town. Mr Mandela said in a speech: “I want you to know that whatever differences we have, whatever quarrels, there is one thing we appreciate – the role of the Jewish community in this country. There was a time when no lawyer in this country was prepared to take our cases, when only Jewish lawyers would defend us.”

Mr Mandela’s view on Israel was critically debated in the public. He was accused of calling the Jewish state an “apartheid state” in a letter to New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, although the authenticity of this letter was not clear.

Mr Mandela also called PLO leader Yassir Arafat a “comrade in arms”. In a JC interview with Mr Mandela’s biographer in 1990, Nadine Gordimer said: “Mandela has recognised the State of Israel, but not its occupation of the West Bank. I think, on his behalf, it was a bold statement, because I don’t know whether the ANC has gone so far as to recognise the State of Israel.”

Last updated: 11:45pm, December 5 2013