Nelson Mandela turned 95 last week, spending his birthday in a Pretoria hospital where he has been fighting a lung infection since June. His illness unleashed a worldwide wave of international concern and well-wishes. The most revered statesman in Africa’s history may be physically in decline, but the heartfelt tributes make clear that Mandela’s moral stature, and his legacy as one of the great peacemakers of the modern age, remains undiminished.
When he was jailed in 1962, Mandela was a man of violence. As a leader of the military wing of the African National Congress, he was convicted for his involvement in sabotage, which he freely admitted in court. He has always maintained that there was no other option — that apartheid could never have been uprooted without armed struggle. He wouldn’t budge from that position even to get out of prison; in 1985, when the apartheid government under P. W. Botha offered to release Mandela if he would reject violence as a political weapon, he indignantly refused.