Nelson Mandela was a writer, a non-US president, and a civil rights activist. He was known as a nonviolent anti-apartheid activist, politician, and philanthropist. Mandela directed a campaign of peaceful, nonviolent defiance against the South African government and it’s racist policies. He became South Africa’s first black president, in office from 1994 to 1999. Nelson Mandela once famously quoted, “I hate racial discrimination most intensely and in all it’s manifestations. I have fought it all during my life, I fight it now, and I will do so until the end of my days.
” And, although his protests against the government did not involve violence, Nelson was sentenced 27 years to prison by the apartheid’s authorities. Were the apartheid right to send him to prison? Did Nelson Mandela really deserve to be held in prison for 27 years?
Nelson was born Rolihlahla Mandela in Mvezo in the Transkei. His father served as a counselor to tribal chiefs for several years. But, he lost his title due to a dispute with the local colonial magistrate while Mandela was still only an infant.
His father’s loss of status forced his mother to move the family to Qunu, a small village north of Mvezo. At age five, he begins attending primary school. He is given the nickname ‘Nelson’ by a teacher.
When Mandela was just twelve, his father passes. His mother entrusts Jongintaba, the regent of Tembu, to raise him. He began taking classes in a one room school. He studied English, Xhosa, history, and geography. It was around this time that Mandela developed an interest in African history.
He learned from the elder chiefs that came to visit Jongintaba on official business. He learned how the African people had lived in relative peace until the coming of white people into their nation. According to the elders, the children of South Africa had previously lived as brothers, but white men had shattered their bonds and fellowship. While black men shared their land, air, and water, the white men just took all of these things for themselves.
In 1937, Nelson Mandela attended the South African Native College. Later, he went to the University of Fort Hare, and not long after, studied law at the University of Witwatersrand. In 1940, Mandela passes a qualification exam to become a lawyer.
Nelson returned back to Thembuland the same year, where he formerly lived with Jongintaba. But the regent had announced that he had arranged a marriage for his adopted son. Jongintaba wanted to make sure that Nelson’s life was properly planned. And the arrangement was in his right, as Tembu tribal custom dictated. Mandela was shocked by the news. He felt trapped, believing that he had no other choice but to follow the regent’s order. In fear, Nelson fled from home. He quickly settled in Johannesburg, where he worked a variety of jobs, including as a guard and a clerk.
In 1944, he joined the ANC, or the African National Congress. The ANC was a black liberation group. He soon became the leader of it’s youth league. And during that same year, Nelson met and married a woman by the name of Evelyn Ntoko Mase. Over the next couple of years, Nelson and Evelyn had two children. They had Thembekile in 1945, and Makaziwe in 1947; who passed only nine months later.
In 1948, Mandela played an important role in launching a campaign of defiance against South Africa’s pass laws. These laws required nonwhites to carry documents authorizing their presence in areas that the government deemed “restricted.” He traveled throughout the country in an effort to build support for nonviolent means of protest against discriminatory laws.
In 1952 in Johannesburg, with fellow ANC leader Oliver Tambo, Nelson established South Africa’s first black law practice. This practice specialized in cases that resulted from the post-1948 apartheid legislation. Nelson Mandela’s nonviolent protests were beginning to make progress. But, his antiapartheid activism made him a frequent target of it’s authorities. Only a few months later was Mandela intermittently banned. He was restricted in travel, association, and speech.
Despite his refrainments, Nelson still managed to stay involved in the movement. In 1955, he was involved in drafting the freedom character, a document calling for nonracial social democracy in South Africa. But the apartheid government became angry with Nelson’s actions. In December of 1956, Mandela and 150 others were arrested and charged with treason for their political advocacy.
Meanwhile, the ANC was being challenged by a group of people who believed that the pacifist method of the ANC was ineffective. And by 1959, the movement had lost much of it’s militant support. Nelson went on trial that same year, and was eventually acquitted in 1961. During the extended court proceedings, he divorced his first wide and married Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela. He spent 27 years in prison. From November 1962 until February of 1990. Nelson was formerly committed to nonviolent protest, but however began believing that armed struggle was the only way to achieve change.
To the apartheid, Nelson Mandela was seen as a threat. When the government took notice to him and the ANC; they immediately tried shutting their protests down with a seemingly simple answer, arresting him. Although, he wasn’t really doing anything wrong. South Africa’s government had unfair and racist policies. And Nelson and many others were unhappy with their laws and wanted change. Along with the ANC, Mandela began his nonviolent protests against the apartheid. He had his own opinion, an opinion that thousands of others agreed with. People should be allowed to have their own opinions.
In 1961, Mandela co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe, also known as MK— an armed offshoot of the ANC dedicated to sabotage and using guerilla war tactics to end apartheid. He was then sentenced another 5 years in prison. In 1963, he was brought to trial again. Ten other ANC leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment for political offenses. The trail became known as the Rivonia Trial. Nelson was incarcerated on Robben Island for 18 of his 27 years in prison.
While on the island, he contracted tuberculosis. But, as a black political prisoner he received the lowest level of treatment from prisoner workers. After being treated for his illness, he was transferred to Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. Mandela’s imprisonment became a cause of célèbre among the international community that condemned the apartheid. He maintained a wide support; especially among South Africa’s black population.
The South African government had offered Mandela his freedom on two separate occasions, in 1976 and 1985. They offered him this under the condition that he renounces his use of violence. But both times Nelson refused, arguing that only free men were able to engage in such negotiations and, as a prisoner, he was not a free man.
On February 11 1990, the South African President de Klerk released Nelson Mandela from prison. Upon his release from prison, he declared the ANC’s armed struggle wouldn’t continue until the black majority received the right to vote. In 1991, Mandela was elected president of the African National Congress. In April of 1994 the ANC, under Mandela’s leadership won South Africa’s first election by universal suffrage. And of May 10th, he was sworn is as president of the country’s first multi-ethnic government at age 77.
Until June of 1999, President Nelson Mandela worked hard to bring about the minority rule and apartheid to black majority rule. He used the nation’s enthusiasm to being reconciliation between blacks and whites. He encouraged black South Africans to show support toward the once-hated national rugby team. South Africa stepped onto the international stage by hosting the Rugby World Cup. That year, he was also awarded with the Order of Merit.
Toward the end of his term, Mandela signed as new constitution for his nation. This law established a strong central government based on majority rule, and guaranteeing both the rights of freedom of expression and the rights of minorities. By 1999, Nelson Mandela had retired from active politics, yet, he still managed to maintain a busy schedule. He raised money to build clinics and schools in South Africa’s rural heartland through his foundation. Nelson was diagnosed and treated for Prostate Cancer in 2001. And only a few years later in 2004 did he announce that he will be stepping down from public life to spend more time with his family; and to also spend more time with wife, Graça Machel, whom he married on his 80th birthday.
Nelson Mandela made his last public appearance in 2010 at the final match of the World Cup. After that, he refrained from the spotlight and spent much of his time in his childhood village of Qunu; which is south of Johannesburg; for the next couple of years. On December 5th 2013, Mandela passed away peacefully at his home in Johannesburg at 95 years old. Nelson Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid political activist. He is known as one of the most admired political leaders of the Twentieth and Twenty-First century. He voiced his opinion, and fought a long battle, but was heard. Nelson once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
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