Nelson Mandela was a social rights activist, politician and philanthropist who became South Africa’s first Black president from 1994 to 1999. For 20 years, he directed a campaign of peaceful, nonviolent defiance against the South African government and its racist policies.
Nelson Mandela was born on 18 July 1918, into the Madiba clan in the village of Mvezo, in the Eastern Cape. His birth name was ‘Rolihlahla’, a Xhosa term colloquially meaning “troublemaker”, his father gave him this name. He got the name ‘Nelson’ when he was 9 years old, from a teacher (Miss Mdingane) at the Methodist school in Qunu, South Africa. Nelson Mandela’s father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa Mandela, was a local chief and councillor to the monarch; he was appointed to the position in 1915. His mother, Nosekeni Fanny, was the third of Mphakanyiswa’s four wives, who together bore him nine daughters and four sons. In 1930, when he was 12 years old, his father died and he became a ward of Jongintaba at the Great Place in Mqhekezweni.
Nelson completed his primary studies at a local missionary school. In 1939, Nelson joined the elite University of Fort Hare, the only Western-style higher learning institute for South African blacks at the time. The next year, Nelson and several other students, were sent home for participating in a boycott against university policies. Meanwhile, he began studying for an LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand.
In 1944, Nelson joined the ANC (African National Congress), a Black-liberation group, and worked with fellow party members to establish its youth league, and became a leader of this group. That same year he met and married Evelyn Ntoko Mase (first wife), with whom he had four children before their divorce in 1957.Mandela was married three times and had six children. In 1958 Mandela married with Winnie Madikizela. The couple had two daughters together. Mandela and Winnie Madikizela had divorced in 1996, and in 1998 Mandela married Graca Machel, with whom he remained until his death.
The ANC adopted the ANCYL’s plan to achieve full citizenship for all South Africans through boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience and other nonviolent methods.In 1952, Nelson and his friend “Oliver Tambo” opened South Africa’s first black law firm, which offered free or low-cost legal counsel to those affected by apartheid legislation. In 1956, Mandela and 155 other activists were arrested and went on trial for treason. All of the defendants were acquitted in 1961, but in the meantime tensions within the ANC escalated, with a militant faction splitting off in 1959 to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). The following year, police opened fire on peaceful black protesters in the township of Sharpeville, killing 70 people; as panic, anger and riots swept the country in the massacre’s aftermath, the apartheid government banned both the parties (ANC & PAC). Forced to go underground and wear disguises to evade detection, Nelson decided that the time had come for a more radical approach than passive resistance.
After the banning of the ANC in 1960, Nelson Mandela argued for the setting up of a military wing within the group. In June 1961, the ANC executive considered his proposal on the use of violent tactics and agreed that those members who wished to involve themselves in Nelson Mandela’s campaign would not be stopped from doing so by the ANC.He described the reasoning for this radical departure from his party’s original tenets.
“it would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and nonviolence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle.”
Now Mandela co-founded and became the first leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”), also known as MK, a new armed wing of the ANC. MK launched a sabotage campaign against the government, which had recently declared South Africa a republic and withdrawn from the British Commonwealth. In 1961, Mandela orchestrated a national workers’ strike. He was charged with leaving the country without a permit and inciting workers to strike. He was arrested for leading the strike the next year and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Mandela admitted to some of the charges against him while defending the ANC’s actions and denouncing the injustices of apartheid. Mandela said,
“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.”
Police raided Liliesleaf, a secret hideout in Rivonia, (Rivonia is a suburb of Johannesburg), used by Communist Party and ANC activists, and several of his comrades were arrested. In 1963 Mandela joined 10 others on trial for sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial.
In June 1964 Nelson Mandela and seven other accused, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Andrew Mlangeni and Elias Motsoaledi, were convicted and the next day were sentenced to life imprisonment. Denis Goldberg was sent to Pretoria Prison because he was white, while the others went to Robben Island.
Nelson mother died in 1968 and his eldest son, Thembi, who died in a car accident in 1969, he was not allowed to attend their funerals.
In 1982 Nelson Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town with Sisulu, Mlangeni and Mhlaba. With increasing international and local pressure for his release, the government participated in several talks with Mandela over the ensuing years, but no deal was made.
Upon his release from prison, Mandela immediately urged foreign powers not to reduce their pressure on the South African government for constitutional reform.
Nelson immersed himself in official talks to end white minority rule and in 1991 was elected African National Congress President to replace his ailing friend, Oliv
In 1993 President FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize and in 1994 he voted for the first time in his life.
In 1994, South Africa held its first democratic elections.Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the country’s first Black president on May 10, 1994, at the age of 77, with de Klerk as his first deputy.
During his presidency, Mandela also worked to protect South Africa’s economy from collapse. Through his Reconstruction and Development Plan, the South African government funded the creation of housing, jobs and basic healthcare.
Nelson Mandela was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer in 2001. In 2004, at the age of 85, he announced his formal retirement from public life and returned to his native village of Qunu. Mandela was hospitalized many times over the next several years for medical treatment relating to his recurrent lung infection. After suffering a lung infection in January 2011, he was briefly hospitalized in Johannesburg to undergo surgery for a stomach ailment in 2012.
After suffering a lung infection and undergo surgery for a stomach ailment Mandela was died on December 5, in 2013, at the age of 95 in his home in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Mandela never wavered in his devotion to democracy, equality and learning.His life is an inspiration to all who are oppressed and deprived, and to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation.
On the day of Mandela death, Zuma released a statement speaking to Mandela’s legacy, he said,
“Wherever we are in the country, wherever we are in the world, let us reaffirm his vision of a society … in which none is exploited, oppressed or dispossessed by another.”