News / Africa

Mandela Inspires ‘Fight to the Finish’

Mkhuseli Jack at home with his family in Port Elizabeth (courtesy M.Jack)
Mkhuseli Jack at home with his family in Port Elizabeth (courtesy M.Jack)
Darren Taylor
“The townships here were literally erupting in violence, especially in the 1980s,” says Mkhuseli Jack, recalling his time as a firebrand anti-apartheid activist in Port Elizabeth (PE), an industrial metropolis in South Africa’s Eastern Cape region.
Black people would fight running battles with the mostly white police and soldiers.  Many of Jack’s fellow activists were killed in the uprisings against white minority rule.  Some were kidnapped by apartheid security operatives and secretly executed.

Mandela Legacy-Mkhuseli-Jack
Mandela Legacy-Mkhuseli-Jacki
|| 0:00:00

Jack himself spent almost six years detained in prisons around South Africa.  Policemen assaulted and tortured him in jail.  “I never expected to be alive today,” he says from his office in PE, where he’s now a successful businessman.
“I was just fighting like everybody else, not even thinking about freedom in our lifetime; we never believed that (would happen).  We thought that, ‘Oh, let’s just continue (the struggle) and do our bit; we’re going to die like all the others who died before us, but we hope that one day, our people shall be free,’” says Jack.
Graffiti inspires a struggle against oppression
The former leader of the Port Elizabeth Youth Congress remembers the first time he came across the name “Nelson Mandela,” when he was a teenager in the city’s Ibhayi township.  “I saw the name scribbled as graffiti at the beer hall.  And somebody had written there – ‘Release Mandela, (Walter) Sisulu and (Govan) Mbeki.’”
He says, “I had no idea who these people were.”  That same day, someone told him they were in jail.
Jack says, “At first I thought, ‘What’s the big deal about them?  If they are in jail, they must be criminals, so why do people want them released?’”  But after learning that Mandela and the others were leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) and had been imprisoned for life by the NP (National Party) government for fighting for political and social freedom for South Africa’s black majority, he says something in him “stirred” and he “felt moved to join their struggle.”      
Jack reflects, “I didn’t know, when I saw the name on the wall, that it was going to serve as an inspiration that would make us really feel that we could face the might of the apartheid government and not be scared to be hanged or to be jailed or to be exiled or to be banished.  We were ready to fight to the finish.”
For more than a decade, the eloquent young activist was a thorn in the side of the NP government.  He organized mass protests against apartheid.  He led the first boycott of white-owned businesses by black people in South Africa.  Wherever he went, he mobilized public opinion against white supremacist ideology.    
Meanwhile, Mandela was languishing in prison on bleak Robben Island, off the Cape coast.  
‘It literally numbed me …’
“There was not (even) a small sign of hope that Mandela was ever going to be free,” says Jack.  The NP had previously made it clear that he would “rot in jail.”  In 1985 the then-president of South Africa, PW Botha, said he’d free Mandela if the ANC chief denounced the armed struggle against apartheid.  But Mandela refused the offer, angering the ruling party.
However, on February 2nd, 1990, South Africa’s last white president, FW De Klerk, announced that Mandela would be released within a matter of days.  Jack remembers, “It shocked me to my core.  It literally numbed me.”
The ANC immediately summoned Jack to Paarl, a town in the Western Cape region.  The liberation icon was being held in a house on the grounds of Victor Verster Prison, before being released.
We thought that, ‘Oh, let’s just continue (the struggle) and do our bit; we’re going to die like all the others who died before us ...

“There I saw Mandela for the first time!” Jack exclaims, still excited to this day.  “I never believed I was (ever) going to see the man.  When he came out of his room in this house, he was a tall man, thin.  I couldn’t believe it!”
He says Mandela walked straight to him.  “He knew my name; he knew everything about me from newspaper reports he had read about my activities.  And then he [said], ‘I thought you were such a big man and yet you are such a small man.’  I nearly collapsed; I nearly fainted in front of him!” Jack says, laughing. 
Mandela told him and the other activists present that their work was only just beginning and that together they should build a “new” South Africa.  He also said he would soon embark on a countrywide tour to thank people for their support.
Madiba goes ‘home’
Jack was elected to organize Mandela’s visit to Port Elizabeth.  But two months after his release on February 11th, Mandela had still not been there.  His supporters in PE became “very anxious,” Jack recalls.  So the ANC branch there sent him to Johannesburg, almost 700 miles away, “to fetch Madiba (Mandela’s Xhosa clan name) and bring him home.”
Port Elizabeth is the biggest city in Mandela’s home province of the Eastern Cape.
On a cold March morning, Jack and some fellow “comrades” arrived at the home of ANC stalwart Walter Sisulu in Soweto.  They’d been advised to “work through” Sisulu in their efforts to get Mandela to Port Elizabeth.   
Jack recalls, “The old man, Walter Sisulu, was busy with his grandchildren – giving them coffee and tea and porridge, and washing some of them in a bath.  And then who comes at the door?  Nelson Mandela.  What!  Hey, hey!  We couldn’t believe this!”
Jack says Sisulu was very surprised to see Mandela, asking him, “What are you doing here at this time in the morning?”  To which Mandela replied, “I took a walk, then someone picked me up on the road and gave me a lift here.”  Sisulu immediately admonished the ANC leader for his “carelessness,” telling him sternly that to take such unaccompanied walks was a “big security risk,” with various right wing groupings having threatened to assassinate him. 
Jack says what “shocked” him was the fact that Sisulu “did not change the order in which he served coffee and tea” when Mandela arrived.  “We were there first, so we were served first.  Madiba had to wait.  And he was quite happy to do this; he did not expect special treatment.  That was amazing.”   
Later that morning, Mandela promised to visit Port Elizabeth as soon as possible.  And on April 1st, 1990, he addressed a crowd of more than 300,000 gathered on a field near the city – to this day one of the biggest political rallies ever held in South Africa. 
Jack says Mandela thanked the city’s people for their sacrifices in the battle for a non-racial South Africa.  He mentioned various activists from the Eastern Cape, such as Steve Biko, who had lost their lives fighting against apartheid. 
Jack says it was a “very emotional day.”  After the event, he drove an “exhausted” Mandela to his hotel.  “When he got into his room, he just got under the blankets with his shoes and suit and everything and he was gone!  Fast asleep!”
Mandela earned the respect of the world
In the following years, Mandela would lead the ANC’s negotiations with the National Party and other parties that led to South Africa’s first multiracial elections in 1994 – the year he became South Africa’s first democratically elected president.
Jack says Mandela will be remembered for his “intense belief in humanity.  He had all the good values that one aspires to.  He knew that freedom would come at a terrible price, and he was willing to pay that price.”
He’s convinced that Mandela’s “greatest gift” to South Africa and the world was in setting an example of someone always willing to forgive his enemies.  “He never ever set out to embarrass or humiliate those who had jailed him, for example.  If he had done this, South Africa would probably have descended into even greater violence,” says Jack.  “With his reconciliation call, he has shown the world that you are far bigger by not showing bitterness to those who have done a wrong thing to you, like those who imprisoned him.”     
Jack maintains that Mandela was “unique” in his ability to remain focused on the “long road ahead,” refusing to “sink into the mud of the murky past.”  He adds, “Mandela was a doer, not a talker -- and also never shy to give credit where credit was due, even if it meant putting himself in a bad light.”
Jack says many world leaders of today would do well to re-examine Mandela’s life, so as to transform the way they currently rule their nations. 
“Mandela has shown us that he could lead by earning the respect of the people, rather than trying to grab the respect of the people through fear, intimidation and demagoguery.”

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs