As many countries around the world celebrate the 95th birthday of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, Washington, D.C. lawmakers held a celebration of his life, legacy and values on Capitol Hill.

Many gathered in Emancipation Hall to honor the former South African president with song, dance, and quotes. Among the attendees were Congressional representatives including Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif).

“I was profoundly moved and inspired by Nelson and Winnie Mandela,” said Waters, who was the Chair of the Los Angeles Free South Africa Movement in the 1980s.

Mandela spent 27 years in South African prison before becoming the first Black president in the country’s history in 1994. During his time in prison, the Free South Africa Movement across the U.S. fought and lobbied for an end to apartheid in South Africa.

Several other leaders of the Free South Africa Movement were in attendance including co-founder William Lucy, Cecelie Counts, and Mary Franes Berry. They shared stories of Mandela and what his legacy meant to their lives.

“Each time I met him, I was inspired,” said Lucy. “Just to see all he went through and for him to keep fighting is an inspiration to everyone.”

Excerpts from Mandela’s famed speeches were shared by 10 members of Congress. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) and U.S. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) were a just a few of the 10 who read brief pieces from Mandela’s speeches.

African tribal dances by the KanKouran West African Dance Company opened and closed the ceremony, and a rendition of “Happy Birthday” was sung by the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz Ensemble with the help of the audience.

Mandela’s birthday is also known as Mandela Day. To honor Mandela Day, individuals are asked to dedicate 67 minutes to charity work to commemorate the 67 years Mandela fought for human rights in South Africa.

“Nelson Mandela’s guidance, his legacy and his life will not pass out of our existence,” said South African Ambassador to the United States Ebrahim Rasool.

Mandela has been hospitalized on life support in Pretoria, South Africa for more than five weeks, suffering from major medical issues due to lung infections. On his birthday, he remained in critical but stable condition.


Talib Babb

Special to the AFRO