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Man of the Century – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

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    Courage, and commitment, dignity and grace, selflessness and endurance- a hero beyond description. A man who spent almost twenty- seven years in prison. A man who was able to lead his people to freedom, shake the pillars of apartheid state of South Africa from his jail cell. I believe that Gondi is a great individual and I will demonstrate that through the following sequence of events. Nelson Mandela was born July 18, 1918 in Qunu, a tiny village in the valley of Transkei, the old tribal homeland of the Xhosh people. His father was a chief of the Tembu clan. Mandela was brought up in African traditions.

    Between 1934 and 1941 Mandela attended tribal school, then the university college of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Here he formed a life long friendship with Oliver Tambo. In his first step into politics he was elected to the Fort Hare student council and participated in a student boycott for which he was suspended. In 1942 Mandela lived with Walter and Albertina Sisulu in what is now Soweto and began articling with a white Johannesburg law firm. In 1944 Mandela married a lady named Evelyn by whom he had three children. This year he joined the Africa National Congress and with his associates Sisulu and Tambo formed the A.N.C. Youth League to be the brains, trust and power station of the spirit of African nationalism.

    In 1948 the Afrikaner National Party came into power in South Africa on the platform of apartheid, a system of legalize discrimination. “This legalize the white minorities political and economic dominance and completely segregated the whites from all colours (people of mixed race), Asians and Africans.”. Between 1948 and 1951 major apartheid legislation was passed. Wallace’s research (1998) found that in 1952 Mandela was a key strategist in the A.N.C’s defiance campaign against the apartheid laws. More than 8500 people were arrested. Twenty organizers including Mandela were given nine months suspended sentences . In 1953 Mandela was elected president of the A.N.C. in Transnaal. He was also “banned” which restricted his movements and barred him from political activity.

    In the mid 1950’s with Tambo, Mandela ran a succesful legal practice in Johannesburg. With 155 others Mandela is held between 1956 – 1961 on treason charges. The famous treason trails lasted five years and ended in acquittals. “Midway through the trial in 1958 Mandela divorced Ntoko and married Nomzamo Winifred Madikezela.” In 1960 occured the Sharpeville massacre. “Police opened fire on unarmed demonstraters and killed 69 black people. This resulted in a political and economic crisis in South Africa. It also caused world attention to be focused on the country”. White South Africans voted to break all ties with Britain and became an independant republic. In 1961 Mandela and others began an armed struggle. On the day of his acquittal in the treason trial he went underground.

    Meanwhile Canada lead the drive to expel South Africa from the Commonwealth. In 1962 after visiting London England and several African nations trying to get support, “Mandela was arrested on charges of inciting a strike and leaving the country illegally. He was sentenced for five years.” In 1963 the first of several black home lands was established. Over the next twenty years millions of blacks were resettled. In 1964 the imprisoned Mandela was tried for sabotage, treason, and violent conspiracy. During this famous Rivonia trial Mandela gave a speech which demonstrated his integrity of principals. He talked of his desire for equal rights for people of all colours but particularily the black people of South Africa. He was also talked of his ongoing condemnation of the white domination existing in his homeland.

    For almost twenty years the rest of the world heard nothing of Mandela. Then, a few weeks before Archbishop Desmond Tutu was to receive his Nobel Peace Prize in February 1985, “South Africa president Botha made a very publicized offer to release 66 year old Mandela if he would promise that the A.N.C would lay down its arms”. To everybodys surprise Mandela’s daughter Zindi took the stage during Tutu’s Nobel celebration. She said she had a message to read from her father which was his response to Botha’s offer. ” I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom. I’m not less lifeloving then you are but I can’t sell my birthright nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free… only free men can negotiate. I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when you and I , the people are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be seperated.”

    The audience sat stunned. They had not heard from him in twenty years but he was still the great person they had thought he was. He was true to his ideas and principles. In a few minutes Mandela had moved from the past to be very much in the present. He had done it from behind bars. In 1990 Mandela was released from prison and chosen as deputy president of the A.N.C. Also the new president of South Africa De Klerk began removing apartheid laws. In 1991 the remaining apartheid laws were destroyed and Mandela becomes president of the A.N.C. In 1993 Mandela and De Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1994 South Africans voted in the first multiracial elections

    After spending almost three decades in prison Mandela had every reason to be angry, but wasn’t. Mandela was a born leader and was faced with great injustice, with his sentence he grew stronger. It made his beleifs stronger in racial equality. Mandela was a man who was greatly at peace with himself and he brought that peace to South Africa. Although South Africa has many challenges still to face, Mandela’s singular contribution makes him not only a great politician but one of the greatest leaders of the twentyith century.


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