Former South Africa president Nelson Mandela dies

December 5, 2013
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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela has died at the age of 95.

The former South African President died peacefully at home on Thursday evening.

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 then president FW de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Following the announcement of Mr Mandela's death, Lord Sacks, Emeritus Chief Rabbi, paid tribute to his leadership.

Rabbi Sacks said: “Today we mourn the loss of one of the world’s great leaders, the man who was our generation’s mentor in forgiveness and reconciliation.

"Nelson Mandela lived and breathed the politics of hope. It takes courage to hope, and even greater courage to lead a people on the long walk to freedom. Because of him not only South Africa but the world is a better place.

"The greatest tribute we can pay him is to be inspired by his memory and lifted by his ideals. Let now be a moment for a new birth of hope in some of the many conflict zones throughout the world. We offer our sincere condolences to his family.

"May they find comfort in the knowledge that his spirit will live on. He permanently enlarged the horizon of human hope.”

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 Hashanah 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.”

Mr Mandela wrote in a 1998 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 10 year anniversary banquet in 1997 Mr Mandela said that the chief would 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".

Rabbi Harris told the JC in 1994: “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 co-founded 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 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”.

Nadine Gordimer, Mr Mandela’s biographer, told the JC in 1990: “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: 9:44am, December 6 2013