Nelson Mandela Biography
He was born to royal blood in a country that looked down on the indigenous peoples that had occupied the lands for many millennia. He was a leader of men that rose up to speak out against the oppression of apartheid and was jailed for life for daring to demand justice and equality for all people regardless of their race or colour. His name was Nelson Mandela and he will always be remembered as the man who broke the shackles of South African apartheid.
I cannot think of a world leader as richly decorated with global awards as is Nelson Mandela. There is everything from honorary awards to world prizes to orders of merit culminating in being awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.
What is more, it is very difficult to find anybody that can say a bad word about this man, unless of course you are a racist white supremacist. But even knowing there were still some racist whites who detested people of colour, Nelson Mandela still wanted to treat everyone the same. He had a determination to stamp out all racism, as Mandela was famously recorded as saying:
"I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man".
The story of Nelson Mandela is one for the ages. He cut a path following his instincts of non-violent activism through to violent activism and back again to his non-violent forms of protest that ultimately gained the victory against an oppressive racist regime.
In 1944 he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and in the same year he founded the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) that was to adopt his non-violent activist strategy.
After the 1948 general elections, the ruling Herenigde Nasionale Party under Daniel F. Malan, expanded on the existing racial segregation policies by institutionalising racial discrimination under the apartheid legislation.
The ANC adopted a policy of non-cooperation using tactics such as boycotts and strikes to disrupt services and business. But the actions they took were too few and not supported by the large numbers required to affect the South African regime.
By 1950 Mandela was on the ANC national executive commitee and was elected to the national president of the ANCYL. The 1950's were a struggle for both Nelson Mandela and the ANC. However, for all their political problems the ANC were gaining traction and growing organically. By 1953 the ANC had 100,000 members and were increasingly being seen as a threat by the authorities.
The apartheid regimes actions were swift and targeted. Mandela and his ANC colleagues were arrested many times for their actions of organising rally's and protests. In 1956 Nelson Mandela and most of the ANC national executive were again arrested and charged with high treason against the state.
The treason charges were based on alleged affiliation to the Communist party (which was banned in South Africa) and advocating violent revolution. The trial dragged on until 1961 when all charges were dropped against all defendant's due to a lack of evidence.
Following the treason trial the ANC stance shifted towards using violent methods including guerilla warfare in their battle against the apartheid regime. Mandela had been banned from organising rallies and making speeches but defied the ban by secretly moving around the country incognito. The press labelled him the Black Pimpernel such was his elusiveness to the authorities edict.
In 1962 Nelson Mandela embarked on a whirlwind tour of Africa including a visit to the Pan-African Freedom Movement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Mandela lived up to his black pimpernel monicker as he snuck in and out of South Africa which riled the authorities because of the widespread publicity he received in meetings with African leaders such as Haile Selassie, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia, President Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea and the Liberian President William Tubman.
Mandela also participated in guerilla warfare training in Ethiopia so it was little wonder that he was high on the apartheid regime's most wanted list to be arrested when he returned to South Africa.
The South African authorities finally felt the collar of the elusive black pimpernel on 5th August 1962 near Howick in the KwaZulu-Natal Province. Mandela was jailed for five years for inciting workers to strike and for leaving the country without permission. However, there would be further charges to follow which would lead to a much longer sentence.
Following a raid on an ANC safe house, Liliesleaf Farm in northern Johannesburg, police uncovered documents incriminating Mandela and other members of the ANC hierarchy. It was classed as a conspiracy. Mandela and his cohorts were charged with sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government.
The trial was sensational. Mandela admitted the charge of sabotage but denied involvement in initiating a guerilla war against the government. Defending himself, Mandela was given a soapbox to preach to the world. This was the moment that Nelson Mandela delivered his three-hour "I am prepared to die" speech. It was riveting stuff. Mandela orated his words from the dock like a President addressing congress. It was both inspiring and mesmerising, it also made headlines around the world despite the regimes attempts to censor reporting the proceedings.
At the end of the trial a guilty verdict was returned on all charges and the prosecution made their case for the death penalty. The judge listened but ultimately chose to sentence the accused to life imprisonment. That day, the hand of politics was felt in the court room with both the verdict and the sentence that avoided turning the ANC leaders into martyrs.
This trial earned Nelson Mandela worldwide recognition that gained support in the United Nations and World Peace Council. He was front page news across the globe. The message was clear. Release Nelson Mandela and his co-accused immediately. The sinister seeds of injustice had been sewn and the apartheid regime of racial discrimination would continue to nurture these seeds for the next quarter of a century.
His new home was to be the infamous Robben Island Prison, off the Cape Town coast. Mandela's incarceration at Robben Island lasted until 1982 when the authorities moved him to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland.
Nelson Mandela's prison years were harsh but not overly intolerable. From time to time he was the recipient of physical and mental abuse from prison warders but Mandela refused to allow his dignity to be taken from him. His stood proud by refusing clemency if he would agree to compromise his political convictions.
Indeed the authorities had made the decision they did not want a martyr on their hands. In this respect Mandela was too high profile, so this afforded him some leeway in prison in comparison to the treatment Steve Biko of the Black Consciousness Movement received when he died in police custody in 1977 after the Soweto uprising.
The protests were increasing during the late 1970's and it could be seen they were more effective than the armed struggle carried out by the ANC’s exiled guerilla army. The ANC advocating an armed struggle actually held their cause back. The South African authorities welcomed all their action because they could accuse them of being a terrorist organisation.
The cold war was still blowing a chilled wind from the east so western leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher gave short thrift to any terrorist organisation whose alleged sympathies lay in Moscow rather than Washington or London.
Mandela recognised that non-cooperation was the way to bring down the apartheid state. The city dwelling whites were a minority with a dependence on the black majority for many basic ingredients of urban life. This is where peaceful non-cooperation would be far more effectual than violence. This became the message that was being whispered across to the visitors of Nelson Mandela.
If Twitter was around in 1980 it would have picked up the famous slogan: "Free Mandela" that was promoted by the South African journalist journalist Percy Qoboza. Yet it still made its way around the world just as effectively without the hashtag enhanced social media giant around to play on people's social consciousness.
The campaign to free Nelson Mandela grew in tandem with the non-violent protests during the 1980's. These protests spread across the globe in support of the anti-apartheid activists. Foreign governments were caught up in a wave of pressure to apply sanctions against South Africa. It was a combination of sanctions and peaceful non-cooperation that brought the apartheid regime knocking on Nelson Mandela's cell door holding an olive branch.
1989 was a year to remember. The Berlin wall fell and the winds of change were reverberating across the globe. The new South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk was exploring ways to legalise the ANC and freeing all political prisoners. De Klerk arranged a meeting with Mandela in December 1989. By February 1990 all banned political parties, including the ANC which had been made illegal in 1960, were legalised.
The slogan "Free Mandela" finally became a reality on 11th February 1990 as he emerged from the steps of Victor Verster Prison in the Western Cape region. In the coming days he gave rousing speeches encouraging the government to agree to negotiations whilst staying strong to his convictions that the armed struggle was not over until the violence of apartheid was ended. He emphasised his desire for a peaceful reconciliation with the white minority in a country that could be shared equitably with the black majority.
The government came to the negotiating table. They realised that the days of apartheid were over and a general election was set for 1994. The ANC won the election and Nelson Mandela became the first President of South Africa. He led a unity government overseeing the transition from the apartheid regime to a multicultural democracy.
The wheel had gone full circle. Mandela who was once the symbol of resistance to the apartheid regime was now the country's president. But there was to be no repeat of what happened to other newly independent African states who broke free from colonial masters only to fail because they drove the elite whites out. Nelson Mandela wanted to avoid this pitfall so he used speeches to the white minority tell them of their importance to the nation and gave reassurances they would be protected.
Nelson Mandela will forever be known as the great conciliator. He was the unifying figure that the volatile nation of South Africa needed for the transition from an oppressive regime to an open democracy. He was a man of great vision who adopted the Mahatma Gandhi stance of non-violent non-cooperation. He openly shared his aspirations for unity with eloquent statements like:
"I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself".
Not many world leaders rise to the level of universal acclaim to be a statesman of the highest order but Mandela eases into this category with aplomb. His words were listened to and dissected for every possible meaning but he always came across with great dignity and grace despite being subject to great adversity for most of his life.
Great men are always associated with great quotes, so this is my compilation of 20 of the best Nelson Mandela quotes
Quotes About Nelson Mandela
Vladimir Putin was impressed to say:
"A brave and wise man, Nelson Mandela always fought for his beliefs, but at the same time remained a great humanist and a peacemaker"
The South African ambassador to China Bheki Langa compared Mandela with Mao Zedong: "They were both very strong leaders who fought for the liberation of their people, and who also contributed to laying the foundation for further development in society"
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta paid a statesman like tribute:
"President Nelson Mandela was an exceptional transformational leader who was gifted with unique, admirable abilities and strong values. He believed in the noble principles of equity, justice, cohesiveness and inclusiveness in governance. He had faith and confidence in the ability of his people to realize the dream of a free, united and prosperous South Africa.... Only the truly exceptional people leave their mark in the world and Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was one of those"
The writer John Scales Avery made this comparison:
"Both Mandela and Gandhi are remembered for their strong belief in truth and fairness, and for their efforts to achieve unity and harmony among conflicting factions. Both treated their political opponents with kindness and politeness"
The anti-apartheid leader Rev. Allan Boesak paid this tribute:
"Mandela was a great leader because he recognized that the movement had become a civil insurrection, a largely nonviolent struggle. A great leader is one who recognizes where the movement is and leads them accordingly, not one who says, ‘Do it my way!’"
Archbishop Desmond Tutu made this observation:
"Huge crowds! The day when Nelson Mandela was duly inaugurated the first democratically elected president of South Africa... And you sat there, and you looked at the benches of the newly elected legislators, and there were all these "terrorists" — as they had been regarded by the former apartheid government. And there they were sitting. Many had been on Robben Island, in exile, many had been tortured. Many of us kept having to pinch ourselves to say, 'No, man, I am dreaming'"
The South African anti-apartheid politician Oliver Tambo once said:
"Nelson Mandela’s captors may wish to ponder the fact that Jawaharlal Nehru, who was no stranger to imprisonment and was in no way destroyed by it, served the world community, including the British, far better as a free man than as a political prisoner. Nelson Mandela’s (then) 18 years’ imprisonment has in no way destroyed him, and will not"