On December 10, the official memorial service for Nelson Mandela was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. Tens of thousands of people from across the world—presidents, prime ministers, and everyday people—gathered for the service. As a nod to Mandela’s lifetime achievements, the memorial service coincided with the United Nations’ Human Rights Day. Coincidently, December 10 also marked the twentieth anniversary of Mandela receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Mandela received the prize, jointly with Frederik Willem de Klerk, for ending the apartheid regime and laying the foundations for a democratic South Africa.
President Obama spoke at the service, as did dignitaries from Brazil, China, Namibia, India, and Cuba; Ban Ki-moon—secretary general of the United Nations; Jacob Zuma—president of South Africa; Desmond Tutu—South African social rights activist and retired bishop; Nkosazana Dlamini Zum—African Union commission chair; and relatives of Mandela.
“It is hard to eulogize any man—to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person—their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul. How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.”
—President Obama, December 10, 2013
President Obama’s point—the difficulty of eulogizing Mandela, “a giant of history,” is true not just for the speakers at the memorial service, but for educators as well. What aspects of Mandela’s life do we focus on in the wake of his passing? His almost twenty-seven years of imprisonment? His relentless campaign against the apartheid regime? His service to South Africa as its first democratically-elected president? His undeniable legacy? These topics are countless and are all well-deserving of our attention.
However, another way to honor Mandela’s achievements and legacy is to focus on the broad themes of resistance in twentieth-century South Africa—resistance to colonialism, to apartheid, and to inequality. There are various online resources that can help educators address these topics in their classrooms. See the list below for recommendations.
Choices has Scholars Online Videos available that accompany the curriculum unit Freedom in Our Lifetime: South Africa’s Struggle. Many of these videos address topics important to understanding twentieth-century South Africa.
How did apartheid keep people separate?
Newell Stulz, professor emeritus of political science at Brown University
How was apartheid different from other systems of racial division?
Harvard University’s Committee on African Studies: “South African Apartheid and the Transition to Democracy”
A PDF file that identifies key themes of the apartheid system and resistance movements for educators. Provides an extensive list of books, documentaries, and websites that address these topics.
“South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid, Building Democracy”
This site provides firsthand accounts of the struggle against apartheid, and includes video, documents, photographs, and interviews as well as historical background.
Google Cultural Institute: Africa Media Online Exhibits
The Google Cultural Institute, a platform for online exhibits, houses nine slideshows from Africa Media Online, an organization that collects and digitizes photographs from across Africa. These exhibits address apartheid signs, the Soweto riots, women activists, the 1913 Land Act, and other topics. Click on “exhibits” on the website to access the slideshows.
African National Congress Archives: Apartheid
Includes photographs, posters, and documents that reflect the African National Congress’ campaign against apartheid.
Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
Features online exhibits on Mandela’s life and over 300 primary documents related to his work.