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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, (born 18 July 1918) a former President of South Africa, was one of its chief anti-apartheid activists, and was also an anti-apartheid saboteur and guerrilla leader. He is now almost universally considered to be a heroic freedom fighter. He spent his childhood in the Thembu chiefdom before embarking on a career in law.

The name Madiba is an honorary title adopted by older male members of Mandela's clan, however in South Africa the title is synonymous with Nelson Mandela.


Early life

Nelson Mandela was born in Mvezo in the Transkei on 18 July 1918. He then moved to Qunu where he lived until he was 9 years old. His father was Hendry Mphakanyiswa Gadla , chief of Mvezo , a tiny village on the banks of the Mbashe River . At the age of seven, Rolihlahla Mandela became the first member of his family to attend school, where he was given the English name "Nelson" by a Methodist teacher. His father died when he was 10, and Nelson attended a Wesleyan mission school next door to the palace of the Regent. Following Xhosa custom he was initiated at age 16, and attended Clarkebury Boarding Institute, learning about Western culture. He completed his Junior Certificate in two years, instead of the usual three.

At age 16, in 1934, Mandela moved to the Wesleyan College in Fort Beaufort, which most Thembu royalty attended, and took an interest in boxing and running. After matriculating, he began a B.A. at the Fort Hare University, where he met Oliver Tambo, who became a lifelong friend and colleague.

At the end of his first year he became involved in a boycott of the Students' Representative Council against the university policies, and was asked to leave Fort Hare. He left for Johannesburg, where he completed his degree at the University of South Africa (UNISA) via correspondence, after which he started with his law studies at the University of Witwatersrand.

Political activity

As a young student, Mandela became involved in political opposition to the white minority government's denial of political, social, and economic rights to South Africa's black majority. Joining the African National Congress in 1942, he founded its more dynamic Youth League two years later together with Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and others.

After the 1948 election victory of the Afrikaner-dominated National Party with its apartheid policy of racial segregation, Mandela was prominent in the ANC's 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1955 Congress of the People , whose adoption of the Freedom Charter provided the fundamental program of the anti-apartheid cause. During this time Mandela and fellow lawyer Oliver Tambo operated the law firm of Mandela and Tambo , providing free or low-cost legal counsel to many blacks who would have been otherwise entirely without legal representation.

Initially committed to non-violent mass struggle he and 150 others were arrested on 5 December 1956 and charged with treason. The marathon Treason Trial of 1956-1961 followed, and all were acquitted. Mandela and his colleagues accepted the case for armed action after the shooting of unarmed protesters at Sharpeville in March 1960 and the subsequent banning of the ANC and other anti-apartheid groups.

Arrest and imprisonment

In 1961 he became the commander of the ANC's armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation", or MK), which he co-founded. He coordinated a sabotage campaign against military, government and civilian targets and made plans for possible guerrilla war if sabotage failed to end apartheid. He also fundraised for MK abroad, and arranged for paramilitary training, visiting various African governments.

On August 5, 1962 he was arrested after the CIA tipped off the police, after living on the run for seventeen months and was imprisoned in the Johannesburg Fort. Three days later the charges of leading workers to strike in 1961 and leaving the country illegally were read to him during a court appearance. On October 25, 1962, Mandela was sentenced to five years in prison. Two years later on June 11, 1964 a verdict had been reached concerning his previous engagement in the African National Congress.

While Mandela was in prison, police arrested prominent ANC leaders on 11 July 1963 at Liliesleaf Farm, Rivonia. Mandela was brought in, and at the Rivonia Trial, Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Andrew Mlangeni , Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi , Walter Mkwayi (escaped during trial), Arthur Goldreich (escaped from prison before trial), Dennis Goldberg and Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein were charged with sabotage and crimes equivalent to treason (but which were easier for the government to prove). Joel Joffe , Arthur Chaskalson and George Bizos were part of the defence team that represented the accused. All except Rusty Bernstein were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment on 12 June, 1964. Charges included involvement in planning armed action, in particular sabotage (which Mandela admits to) and a conspiracy to help other countries invade South Africa (which Mandela denies). Over the course of the next twenty-six years, Mandela became increasingly associated with opposition to apartheid to the point where the slogan "Free Nelson Mandela" became the rallying cry for all anti-apartheid campaigners around the world.

While in prison, Mandela was able to send a statement to the ANC who in turn published it on 10 June, 1980 which said in part:

'Unite! Mobilise! Fight on! Between the anvil of united mass action and the hammer of the armed struggle we shall crush apartheid!' [1]

Refusing an offer of conditional release in return for renouncing armed struggle (February 1985), Mandela remained in prison until February 1990, when sustained ANC campaigning and international pressure led to his release on 11 February, on the orders of state president F.W. de Klerk and the ending of the ban on the ANC. He and de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Mandela had already been awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1988.

ANC presidency and presidency of South Africa

As president of the ANC (July 1991 - December 1997) he ran a largely ceremonial and uncompetitive campaign against de Klerk for the new office of President of South Africa. Mandela won, becoming the nation's first black Head of State. De Klerk was appointed deputy president.

As president, (May 1994 - June 1999), Mandela presided over the transition from minority rule and apartheid, winning international respect for his advocacy of national and international reconciliation. Some radicals were disappointed with the social achievements of his term of office, particularly the government's ineffectiveness in stemming the AIDS crisis.

Indeed Mandela himself admitted after he retired that he may have failed his country by not paying more attention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He has taken many opportunities since to highlight a South African tragedy.

Mandela was also criticized for his close friendship with leaders such as Fidel Castro and Moammar Al Qadhafi, whom he called his "comrades in arms." His decision to commit South African troops to defeat the 1998 coup in Lesotho also remains a topic of some controversy.

Mandela has been married three times. His first marriage to Evelyn Ntoko Mase ended in divorce in 1957 after 13 years, and his 38-year marriage to Winnie Madikizela in separation (April 1992) and divorce (March 1996) fuelled by political estrangement. On his 80th birthday he married Graça Machel, widow of Samora Machel, the former Mozambican president and ANC ally killed in an air crash 15 years earlier.


United States Vice President meets with Mandela.
United States Vice President Al Gore meets with Mandela.

After his retirement as President in 1999, Mandela went on to become an advocate for a variety of social and human rights organizations. He received many foreign honours, including the Order of St. John from Queen Elizabeth II and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush.

He is one of only two persons of non-Indian origin (Mother Teresa being the other) to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, in 1990.

As an example of his popular acclaim, in his tour of Canada in 1998, he included a speaking engagement in the Skydome in the city of Toronto where he spoke to 45,000 school children who greeted him with intense adulation. In 2001, he was the first living foreigner to be made an honourary Canadian citizen (the first, Raoul Wallenberg, was posthumously made a Canadian citizen) as well as being one of the few foreign leaders to receive the Order of Canada.

In 2003, Mandela attacked the foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration in a number of speeches, going so far as calling Bush a racist for not following the UN and its secretary-general Kofi Annan (who is African) on the issue of the War in Iraq. "Is it because the secretary-general of the United Nations is now a black man? They never did that when secretary-generals were white," Mandela said.[2]

Later that same year, he lent his support to the 46664 AIDS fundraising campaign, named after his prison number.

In June 2004 at age 85, Mandela announced that he would be retiring from public life. His health has been declining in recent years and he wants to enjoy time with his family as long as his health allows it. He has made an exception, however, for his commitment to the fight against AIDS. In July 2004 he flew to Bangkok to speak at the XV International AIDS Conference. His eldest son, Makgatho Mandela, died of AIDS on January 6 2005 [3]

On 23 July, 2004 the city of Johannesburg bestowed its highest honour on Mandela by granting him the freedom of the city at a ceremony in Orlando , Soweto.

Orders and decorations

Courtroom quotes

"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."
"Why is it that in this courtroom I am facing a white magistrate, confronted by a white prosecutor, escorted by white orderlies? Can anybody honestly and seriously suggest that in this type of atmosphere the scales of justice are evenly balanced? Why is it that no African in the history of this country has ever had the honor of being tried by his own kind, by his own flesh and blood?...I am a black man in a white man's court. This should not be." (Finlayson 84).
"Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud... We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender, and other discrimination. Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another... The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement."

Further reading

See also

External links

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