NELSON MANDELA (1918-2013)

From politics of violence to politics of forgiveness


By Ambassadors Research Staff




Rise of a Fighter!


Nelson Rolihlahla (a Xhosa name for troublemaker) Mandela was born at Qunu, Transkei (now part of South Africa) on 18 July 1918.  His father, Henry Mgadla Mandela, was chief councilor to Thembuland's acting paramount chief David  Dalindyebo. When his father died, Mandela became the chief's ward and was groomed for the chieftainship. Mandela matriculated at Healdtown Methodist Boarding School and then started a BA degree at Fort Hare. As a member of the Student Representative Council (SRC) he participated in a student strike and was  expelled in 1940. He  completed his degree by correspondence from Johannesburg, did articles of clerkship and enrolled for a Bachelor of Law degree at the University of the Witwatersrand.


In 1944 he helped found the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, whose Programme of Action was adopted by the ANC in  1949. Mandela was elected national volunteer-in-chief of the 1952 Defiance Campaign. He travelled the country organizing resistance to discriminatory legislation.  As a result, he was given a suspended sentence for his part in the campaign. Shortly afterwards a banning order confined  him to Johannesburg for six months. During this period he formulated the "M Plan", in terms of which ANC  branches were broken down into underground cells


Challenging the Apartheid System by All Means

By 1952, Mandela and friend Oliver Tambo opened the first black-run legal firm in South Africa, at the same time when Mandela was both Transvaal president of the ANC and deputy national president of the group. A petition by the Transvaal Law Society to strike Mandela off the roll of attorneys was refused by the country's Supreme Court. In the 1950s, after being forced through constant bannings to resign officially from the ANC, Mandela analysed the South African government's Bantustan Policy as a political swindle, and predicted that there would soon be mass removals, political persecutions and police terror. In 1956, he was among 156 arrested and accused of treason, which became know as the 1956 Treason Trial. With Duma Nokwe, he conducted the defence during the trial, which lasted until 1961, when it was dismissed by the court.


When the ANC was banned after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, he was detained until 1961 when he went underground to lead a campaign for a new national  convention. Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC, was founded that same year under Mandela's leadership.  The MK was responsible for launching a campaign of sabotage against government  and economic installations.


In 1962 Mandela left the country for military training in  Algeria and to arrange training for other MK members. On his return he was arrested for leaving the country  illegally and for incitement to strike. Again, Mandela conducted his own defence at the trial, and was convicted and jailed for five years in November 1962. While serving his sentence, he was charged as part of the Rivonia Trial, with the crime of sabotage, resulting in a sentence of life imprisonment in 1964. It was at this trial that Mandela made a statement as the first witness, which turned into a four-hour speech printed word-for-word in the Rand Daily Mail. He had decided that no sacrifice was too great in the struggle for freedom. He was prepared for the death penalty and resolved not to appeal if it were handed down.

"I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Interestingly, a decade before beginning his life imprisonment sentence, Mandela had spoken out against the introduction of the Bantu Education policy introduced by the South African government, but rather recommended that community activists "make every home, every shack or rickety structure a centre of  learning". In that same vain, Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned, became a centre for learning. He was a central figure in the organized political education classes in the prison.  Mandela never compromised his political principles and was always a source of strength for the other prisoners on the island.


During his 27 years in prison, Mandela rejected offers of remission in exchange for recognising independence of the Transkei and agreeing to settle there. In the 1980s, he refused an offer of release on condition that he renounce violence. "Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Only free men can negotiate," he said.


Road to Freedom and Forgiveness


In 1984, when Mandela was suddenly removed from Robben Island and taken to Pollsmoor, the political mood was beginning to change with the resignation of Nationalist hardline prime minister John Vorster. From 1987, Mandela began to attend meetings with South African government ministers and officials. He often found himself educating ministers who had based their anti-ANC perceptions on faulty police intelligence. Late in 1988, Mandela was taken to a model stone cottage prison at Paarl, a sign of his imminent release.

South African President F.W. de Klerk, who had taken over from the sick Botha, released all members of the ANC by 1990, which, in effect, was taken off the list of banned organisations.  Mandela credits de Klerk for being able to see the political reality and for his efforts to make a transition as smooth as possible.

On February 11, 1990, Mandela, aged 71, was freed. He told the world that he harboured no anger towards the white population of South Africa. He knew South Africa needed stability and was determined to retain its white, educated elite. He demanded an end to crime in the black townships. "Freedom without civility, freedom without the ability to live in peace, is not true freedom at all," he said.

Interestingly, it is significant to note that shortly after his eventual release from prison on Sunday, 11 February 1990, Mandela and his delegation agreed to the suspension of armed struggle!


Over his lifetime, Mandela received honorary degrees from more than 50  international universities and is chancellor of the University of the North. He was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, one year before he was inaugurated as the first democratically elected State President of South Africa on 10 May 1994 - June  1999, at which time he retired from public life. 


ANC leader Nelson Mandela holds up his medal and certificate after he was jointly awarded the
1993 Nobel Peace Prize with South African President F.W. de Klerk. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)


Death of a Freedom Fighter - Tributes from World Leaders!!


Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General:
Mandela was a giant for justice and a down to earth human inspiration. Many around the world were inspired by his struggle for dignity, equality and freedom.


US President Obama:
Today he is gone home and we have lost on of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human being that anyone could have spent time with on this earth.


Former Canadian PM Chretien:
It was for me a great honor and privilege to spend many meetings with him and to make him an honorary Canadian citizen.


Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
He was a unifier from the moment he walked out of prison. We are relieved his suffering is over but our relief is drowned by our grief. May he rest in peace and rise in glory


South African President Jacob Zuma:
Our people have lost a father although we knew that this day was going to come, nothing can diminish our feeling of enduring loss.


South African last apartheid President DeKlerk:
Although we were politically opponents, and our relationship was often stormy, we were able to come together at critical moments to resolve many crisis throughout the negotiation process.







There seemed to be never-ending lines of mourners who wanted to bid Mandela farewell. (BEN CURTIS/AP)


Mandela’s former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, left foreground, and his widow, Graca Machel, center,
during the funeral service. (AP Photo/Odd Andersen)


Nelson Mandela's message of peace extends much further than just South Africa, as his mural depicting his legacy is painted on a house in Northern Ireland circa 1995 (Photo by Kevin Weaver/Getty Images).


A couple places flowers on an immaculate sand sculpture of Nelson Mandela made by artist Sudarsan Pattnaik on December 6, 2013—one day after Mandela's death—in Puri, India. (Photo by ASIT KUMAR/AFP/Getty Images)


South African girl hugs statute of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.



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