Nelson Mandela was the most significant black leader who stood against racism and apartheid in South Africa, while many in the world were silent. He dreamt of a democratic and free society in which people live together in harmony with equal opportunities. His words, ”the struggle is my life”, give a glimpse of the determination he fought with against apartheid and racism in South Africa, the goal he had set almost four decades back. Mandela has held numerous positions in the ANC: ANCYL secretary (1948); ANCYL president (1950); ANC Transvaal president (1952); Deputy national president (1952) and ANC president (1991). Despites several roadblock and barriers in his path, Mandela succeeded in bringing quality and justice to his people for which he was awarded the honorary Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Childhood & Education
Nelson Mandela was born in the Transkei on the 18 July 1918. He lost his father, who was a councilor- at the age of nine when he died of tuberculosis. Hearing the elder’s stories of his ancestors’ bravery during the wars in defense of their fatherland, he dreamed of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of his people. He was the first member of his family to attend a school and was given the English name ‘Nelson’ by his teacher. After receiving primary education at a local mission school, he enrolled at the University College of Forte Hare for the Bachelor of Arts Degree where he met Oliver Tambo and the two became lifelong friends.
At the end of the first year of the college Nelson became involved in a boycott by the Students’ Representative Council against the university policies, and was told to leave the college. Then he went to Johannesburg to complete his BA via correspondence and entered politics while studying there by joining African National Congress in 1942. After completing his B.A. he started with his law studies at the University of Witwatersrand. During this period Mandela lived in Alexandra Township, north of Johannesburg. Later, when he was in prison, Mandela studies for a Bachelor of Laws from the university of London external programme. Mandela has honorary degrees from more than 50 international universities and is chancellor of the University of the North.
Mandela’s approach was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. Nelson Mandela was elected as the secretary to the youth leadership in 1947. The ANCYL aimed at the attainment of full citizenship, direct parliamentary representation for all South Africans. The policy making process paid special attention to the redistribution of the land, trade union rights, education and culture. Mandela as an important co – author of the policy document aspired to free and compulsory education for all children, as well as mass education for adults. When the ANC launched its Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws in 1952, Mandela traveled to places to discriminatory legislation as Volunteer-in-Chief. Though Mandela had constantly advised their followers to avoid violence, he was charged and brought to trial for his role in the campaign.
Following which he was convicted of contravening the suppression of communism act and given a suspended prison sentence. He was also prohibited from attending gatherings and confined to Johannesburg for six months. In 1952 Mandela and his followers prepared an organizational plan that would enable the leadership of the movement to maintain dynamic contact with its members without recourse to public meetings. The plan was called M-Plan, which was named after him. Apart from it, during early fifties Mandela played vital role in leading the resistance to the Western Areas removal and to the introduction of Bantu Education. In the late fifties he made efforts to curb the exploitation of labour, the pass laws, the nascent Bantustan policy and the segregation of the open universities.
In1961 Umkhonto we Sizwe(translated as Spear of the Nation, also shortened as MK), was formed with Mandela as its commander in chief. He coordinated a sabotage campaign against military and government targets, and made plans for a possible guerilla war if sabotage failed to end apartheid. He left the country unlawfully and traveled abroad addressing the conferences and was warmly received by top leaders of many countries. During this trip Mandela, anticipating an inevitable armed struggle, began to arrange guerrilla training for members of Umkhonto we Sizwe.
Mandela also raised funds for MK abroad, and arranged for paramilitary training, visiting various African governments. Initially committed to a non-violent mass struggle, Mandela explains the move to embark on armed struggle as a last resort, when government left him no choice. Increasing repression and violence from the state convinced him that many years of non violent protest against apartheid had achieved nothing. Soon after his return to South Africa he was arrested for illegal exit from the country. Mandela decided to conduct his own defense. He was convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment.
He was convicted for crimes that occurred while he was spearheading the struggle against apartheid. Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to the notorious Robben Island Prison, a maximum security prison on a small island near Cape Town, where he spent nearly 18 years of his 27 years sentence. In April 1984 he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town and later to the Victor Verster Prison near Paarl from where he was eventually released. While in prison, throughout his life sentence Mandela turned down offers for remission of sentence in exchange for accepting the bantustan policy and renouncing violence.
Mandela refused the offer releasing a statement that he can not accept personal freedom when the organization of the people remains banned. He stood by his statement that Prisoners cannot enter into contracts-Only free men can negotiate. During his years in prison he gained acceptance as the most significant black leader in South Africa and became a potent symbol of equality and freedom for his opposition to apartheid, while the apartheid government and countries sympathetic to it condemned him and ANC as terrorists and communists. He spent almost 27 years in jail for this with many of those years on Robben Island. He flatly refused to compromise on his political position to obtain his freedom.
Release and Presidency of South Africa
On 2 February 1990, State president F.W. de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC announcing his release from prison.He was released on Feb 11, 1990, and the event was broadcast live all over the world. On the day of his release Mandela made a speech to the nation in which he declared his commitment to bring peace to the black majority and give them right to vote in elections. He made clear that the armed struggle was yet not over. Following his release, Mandela returned to the leadership of the ANCF and between 1990 and 1994 his party multi-party negotiation led to the first multi-racial elections.
In 1991, the ANC held its first national conference in South Africa after its unbanning, in which Mandela was elected as the President of the ANC. while his lifelong friend and colleague, Oliver Tambo, became the organisation’s National Chairperson. In 1994 he became the first democratically elected state president of South Africa with the National Party’s de Klerk as his first Deputy and Thabo Mbeki as the second in the Government of National Unity.
Family and Retirement
Mandela has been married three times, has fathered six children, and has twenty grandchildren and a growing number of great-grandchildren. His grandson is Chief Mandla Mandela. Mandela became the oldest elected President of South Africa when he took charge in 1994. He was 77 years old that time and decided not to contest for the second time. Nelson Mandela took retirement from Public life in June 1999. He currently resides in his birth place – Qunu, Transkei
A life devoted to justice
Nelson Mandela has received more than hundred awards over the past four decades for his struggle for democracy, equality and learning. He never answered racism with racism. He won international respect for his advocacy for reconciliation of white and black. Leading a life that symbolizes the triumph of the human spirit over man’s inhumanity to man, Nelson Mandela accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 on behalf of South Africans who suffered and sacrificed so much to bring peace to the world. His life is an inspiration to all oppressed and deprived and to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation.
Nelson Mandela Timeline:
1918- He was born at Qunu, near Umtata.
1944- He helped found the ANC Youth League.
1952- Mandela was elected national volunteer-in-chief of the 1952 Defiance Campaign.
1960- The ANC was banned after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, and he was detained until 1961 when he went underground to lead a campaign for a new national convention.
1960- Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC, came into existence.
1962- Mandela left the country for military training in Algeria and to arrange training for other members.
1962- On his return he was arrested for leaving the country illegally and was convicted and jailed for five years.
1990- He was released from the Robben Island prison.
1994- He became the first democratically elected State President of South Africa on 10 May 1994
1999- Nelson Mandela retired from Public life in June 1999. He currently resides in his birth place – Qunu, Transkei