Nelson Mandela, whose anti-apartheid leadership inspired millions around the world including songwriters, filmmakers and writers, died today at 95 in Johannesburg. He had been suffering from a lung infection for several months.
Mandela emerged after 27 years in prison (1963-1990) to become president of South Africa and is generally considered the father of his country. After his presidency, 1994-1999, he founded a global charitable organization. There have been many activists who have been mistreated and/or unjustly imprisoned, but Mandela’s story captured the imagination of the public — and artists — much more intensely than most.
Idris Elba plays him in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” which was released in November.
His daughter Zindzi recently told the South African Broadcasting Corporation that Mandela has seen some clips of the film, which is adapted from his autobiography of the same name. His eldest daughter Makaziwe said, “Even when there are moments when you can see he’s struggling, but the fighting spirit is still there with him.”
Mandela has been portrayed in film and TV by a distinguished group of actors in such works as the 1997 “Mandela and de Klerk,” Sidney Poitier; 2007 “Goodbye Bafana,” Dennis Haysbert; 2009 “Invictus,” Morgan Freeman; 2010 “Mrs. Mandela,” David Harewood; 2011 “Winnie,” Terrence Howard.
He has also been given a dozen other depictions on TV and in film. And he appeared as himself in multiple docus, including “Mandela” (1996); “Mandela at 90” (2008); and “The Art of Reconciliation” (2012). In 2008, producers planned a Broadway musical based on the autobiography of his daughter Zindzi Mandela, but that never happened.
He had his detractors, as any revolutionary leader would. And in July of this year, there were always headlines about family squabbles involving his ex-wives, children and grandchildren. But showbiz folks didn’t know or didn’t care about the criticisms. He became the symbol of the freedom fighter, of perseverance and of nobility in the face of persecution.
On July 18, his 95th birthday, huge crowds gathered in Pretoria, outside the hospital where Mandela had been staying since June 8 with a recurring lung infection. Speaking of his condition, his daughter Zindzi told CBS News, “He continues to amaze us every day.” That could sum up his health condition as well as his 67 years of activism.
Mandela was born in 1918. After the Afrikaner nationalists of the National Party began implementing a policy of apartheid in 1948, lawyer Mandela was repeatedly arrested for his actions. Though he initially stuck to a non-violent policy, he co-founded the militant org Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961 with a policy of bombing government locations. The following year he was convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the govenrment and sentenced to life in prison.
In 1983, The Special AKA recorded “Free Nelson Mandela,” a song also recorded by Elvis Costello. Two years later, Youssou N’Dour made the album “Nelson Mandela,” which became his first U.S. release.
While still in prison, a group of performers staged a 70th birthday celebration in his honor on June 11, 1988, at Wembley Stadium in London. The following year, Simple Minds included a song “Mandela Day” on their 1989 album “Street Fighting Years.”
Other artists recording songs or videos devoted to him include Johnny Clegg, Hugh Masekela, Nickelback and Raffi.
After years of global protests on his behalf, Mandela was finally released in 1990. He wrote his autobiography, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and, a year later, worked with President F.W. de Klerk to eliminate apartheid and establish multiracial elections.
After his own presidency, he worked through his Nelson Mandela Foundation to fight poverty and battle HIV and AIDS. In South Africa, he is considered the father of his country.