Personal tribute to Nelson Mandela on his 83rd birthday

Cape Town- South Africa (PANA) -- Like millions of other South Africans, Nelson Mandela has had a profound impact on my life and as he celebrates his 83rd birthday today, I reflect on his contribution to my country and the rest of the world.
More than 11 years have past since the most famous political prisoner in the world walked through the gates of Victor Verster Prison near Cape Town, and immediately began steering this land of Apartheid towards democracy, freedom and re-admittance into the international arena.
In just four years, Mandela defied the odds and helped steer the country away from a full-blown race war.
After 27 years behind bars, we were confounded by Mandela's lack of bitterness, his grasp of the issues crippling South Africa and his visionary leadership that saw him lead a nation out of the wilderness in just five years.
Following his release, a fierce power struggle ensued before the country's first democratic elections.
Thousands died but many more lives were saved when the majority of South Africans found themselves being lead by Mandela's voice of reason.
Three years after his release from prison, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with South Africa's last white president, FW de Klerk.
The African National Congress leader was swept into office on a wave of public euphoria in 1994.
He spent most of his four-year term in office dedicated to uniting South Africa's racially divided society, and he remained dedicated to freeing the country of crime, poverty and corruption.
In July 1997, I was mugged at knifepoint in a congested part of the Johannesburg CBD.
I lived to write about the experience and immediately after my article was published in a weekly newspaper, Mandela phoned me to offer his sympathies.
Later that day, we visited the scene of the crime, and Mandela told a large contingent of local and international journalists that he was determined to clean up the city.
There were mixed successes following his undertaking, but Johannesburg still attracts millions of people daily and remains an economic powerhouse in Africa.
When he handed over the reigns of his presidency to Thabo Mbeki in 1999, he had established himself as one of the most respected leaders in history.
Despite his successes, Mandela's personal life had suffered enormously with his lengthy incarceration.
His marriage to Winnie was on the rocks shortly after his release and when allegations of her infidelity surfaced in the media, a bitter divorce followed.
Mandela may have been one of the world's most popular leaders, but he was desperately lonely following the break-up of his marriage.
There was, however, a fairy-tale ending when he met and fell in love with former Mozambican first lady Graca Machel.
As the world celebrated his 80th birthday, Mandela married Machel at a secret ceremony at his Johannesburg home.
I asked him, a few days later, what his greatest wish was and he instantly replied: "To live for another 80 years.
" I wish the same.

18 july 2001 11:14:00

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