“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.” Mandela ‘Speech from the Dock’ on 20 April 1964.
In Robben Island prison the prisoners were awakened before dawn to start a long day of forced labor. For 13 years Mandela was led in chains to a limestone quarry and forced to extract lime from the hard cliffs beneath a burning sun. Even under these hellish conditions, Mandela managed to study and encouraged the other prisoners to share their knowledge with each other and to debate their ideas. Lectures were arranged in secrecy and the prison came to be known as "Mandela University." Mandela never relented in his efforts to change mistaken views and create allies among those around him. Eventually, his indomitable spirit gained the respect of even the prison guards.
By far the cruelest torment he had to endure was his inability to aid his family or shield them from the incessant persecution of the authorities. The Mandela home was attacked and burned; his wife was repeatedly harassed, arrested and interrogated. Mandela was in prison when he learned that his mother had died of a heart attack. It filled him with immense pain to think that she died still worrying about his safety, as she had throughout the long years of his struggle for freedom and dignity. Shortly thereafter, he was told that his eldest son had been killed in a highly suspect automobile "accident."
Mandela wrote a memoir during the 70s, copies of which were wrapped in plastic containers and buried in a vegetable garden which he kept at prison. It was hoped that fellow prisoner Mac Maharaj, who was due for release, would be able to smuggle it out. But the containers were discovered when prison authorities began building a wall through the garden. As punishment, Mandela's study privileges were revoked.During the 1950s Mandela was banned, arrested and imprisoned for challenging apartheid. He was one of the accused in the massive Treason Trial at the end of the decade and, following the 1960 banning of the ANC, he went underground, adopting a number of disguises--sometimes a laborer, other times a chauffeur. The press dubbed him "the Black Pimpernel" because of his ability to evade police. During this time, he and other ANC leaders formed its armed wing--Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). Mandela was secretly appointed its commander in chief. "At the end of the day...violence was the only weapon that would destroy apartheid." Wrote Nelson Mandela, in1959.
The apartheid government offered to release Mandela on no less than six occasions but he rejected them each time. On one such occasion Mandela released a statement saying: "I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom ... What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people [the ANC] remains banned?" The ANC was labeled a terrorist organisation by the apartheid government and was recognised as such by countries including the US and Britain. It was only in 2008 that the United States finally officially removed Mandela and other ANC members from its terror list!
"He had a sense of destiny fairly early on, though he denies that ...A lot of his letters and his interesting essays in jail have a kind of assumption behind them that in the end he will be required to lead his country, as well as his people." Anthony Sampson, biographer wrote. The rolling green hills of the rural Transkei is the place Mandela thinks of as home; it is there he has built his retirement house. Growing up in the royal kraal of the Madiba clan, Mandela was groomed to be advisor to the King of Thembus.
"In my youth in the Transkei I listened to the elders of my tribe telling stories of the old days. Amongst the tales they related to me were those of wars fought by our ancestors in defence of the fatherland.."opening sentences from Mandela's statement from the dock in the Rivonia Trial, April 1964.
Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in a village named Mvezo, in South Africa’s Cape Province. Mandela's birth name – Rolihlahla – is an name that means "pulling the branch of the tree". Colloquially it also means "troublemaker". His English name, Nelson, was given to him by a missionary schoolteacher. It was a custom among Africans in those days and was undoubtedly due to British bias. He was expelled from the University of Fort Hare after joining a student protest. He later completed his degree through Unisa, which he followed up with a law degree from Wits University. Qualified as a lawyer, Mandela qualified opened a law practice in Johannesburg with his partner, Oliver Tambo. Both of them campaigned against apartheid. Nelson Mandela, while increasingly politically involved from 1942, only joined the African National Congress in 1944 when he helped formed the ANC Youth League.
In 1944 he married Evelyn Mase, a nurse. They had two sons Madiba Thembekile ‘Thembi’ and Makgatho and two daughters both called Makaziwe, the first of whom died in infancy. They effectively separated in 1955 and divorced in 1958.
Nelson Mandela rose through the ranks of the ANCYL and through its work the ANC adopted in 1949 a more radical mass-based policy, the Programme of Action. In 1952 he was chosen at the National Volunteer-in-Chief of the Defiance Campaign with Maulvi Cachalia as his Deputy. This campaign of civil disobedience against six unjust laws was a joint programme between the ANC and the South African Indian Congress. He and 19 others were charged under the Suppression of Communism Act for their part in the campaign and sentenced to nine months hard labour suspended for two years.
Mr. Mandela, already national vice-president of the ANC, launched a campaign of economic sabotage. He was eventually arrested and charged with sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government. He was then sentenced to life prison in 1964. H wasn’t even allowed to attend the funerals of his mother and son, who died within a year (1968-1969). The African National Congress was founded in 1912 (6 years before Nelson Mandela's birth) to unite the African people against white minority ruling. Their aim has always been to create a non-racial and democratic South Africa.
Nelson Mandela and ANC have become almost synonymous. Nelson Mandela joined the ANC in 1943. From that time on he never lost his vision for the ideals that the ANC stands for. In the ANC Mandela found the way to a free South Africa but it did not come without a high price.
Shortly after joining the ANC Nelson Mandela, together with his friend and partner Oliver Tambo and Walter Sislu, formed the Youth League of the congress. Initially, in line with the ANC's Defiance campaign the ideals of peaceful non-compliance and protests were the order of the day. As things progressed, more specific areas were targeted, but always with the intention that no person would be hurt or injured.
Nelson Mandela – terrorist. Yes, in the USA this Nobel Peace Prize winner is listed as a terrorist. Why? Because he was a member of the African National Congress and they were all declared as terrorists in around 1961. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned as a terrorist, convicted of treason and sabotage and sentenced for life. His only real crime though was to rid his country South Africa of the atrocities of apartheid and attempt to bring about democracy and equality for all.
On 21 March 1960 police killed 69 unarmed people in a protest at Sharpeville against the pass laws. This led to the country’s first state of emergency on 31 March and the banning of the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress on 8 April. Nelson Mandela and his colleagues in the Treason Trial were among the thousands detained during the state of emergency.
During the trial on 14 June 1958 Nelson Mandela married a social worker Winnie Madikizela. They had two daughters Zenani and Zindziswa. The couple divorced in 1996.
Days before the end of the Treason Trial Nelson Mandela travelled to Pietermaritzburg to speak at the All-in Africa Conference, which resolved he should write to Prime Minister Verwoerd requesting a non-racial national convention, and to warn that should he not agree there would be a national strike against South Africa becoming a republic. As soon as he and his colleagues were acquitted in the Treason Trial Nelson Mandela went underground and began planning a national strike for 29, 30 and 31 March. In the face of a massive mobilization of state security the strike was called off early. In June 1961 he was asked to lead the armed struggle and helped to establish Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation).
On 11 January 1962 using the adopted name David Motsamayi, Nelson Mandela left South Africa secretly. He travelled around Africa and visited England to gain support for the armed struggle. He received military training in Morocco and Ethiopia and returned to South Africa in July 1962. He was arrested in a police roadblock outside Howick on 5 August while returning from KwaZulu-Natal where he briefed ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli about his trip.
He was charged with leaving the country illegally and inciting workers to strike. He was convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment which he began serving in Pretoria Local Prison. On 27 May 1963 he was transferred to Robben Island and returned to Pretoria on 12 June. Within a month police raided a secret hide-out in Rivonia used by ANC and Communist Party activists and several of his comrades were arrested.
In October 1963 Nelson Mandela joined nine others on trial for sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial. Facing the death penalty his words to the court at the end of his famous ‘Speech from the Dock’ on 20 April 1964 became immortalized:
Nelson Mandela immersed himself into official talks to end white minority rule and in 1991 was elected ANC President to replace his ailing friend Oliver Tambo. In 1993 he and President FW de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize and on 27 April 1994 he voted for the first time in his life. On 10 May 1994 he was democratically elected as South Africa’s first President.
On his 80th birthday in 1998 he married Graça Machel, his third wife. True to his promise Nelson Mandela stepped down in 1999 after one term as President. He continued to work with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund he set up in 1995 and established the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Mandela-Rhodes Foundation.
Nelson Mendala wanted freedom, not just for himself but for his people. For Mandela prison became a place of teaching. No one can deny the suffering he went through on Robben Island, the mistreatment and the underfeeding. On this Nelson Mandela Island there was plenty of brutality dished out to the people there, most particularly the blacks.
A very thin straw mat on a floor in a cell no more than 5 square metres, coupled with poor food and hard labour was what the Nelson Mandela jail quarters on Robben Island had to offer. As the Free Nelson Mandela song goes he had shoes too small for his feet and a host of other hardships to deal with. After many protests the prisoners were allowed to study and this Nelson Mandela jail became a place of learning.
Nelson Mandela never wavered in his devotion to democracy, equality and learning. Despite terrible provocation, he never answered racism with racism. His life has been an inspiration to all who are oppressed and deprived, to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation.
One of the world’s most revered statesmen, Nelson Mandela, led the struggle to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a multi-racial democracy. Emerging as the country’s first black president, Mandela won the Nobel Peace prize in 1993. Nelson Mandela is known as the Father of the nation and it was his lifelong struggle that saw an end of apartheid in South Africa. The United Nations declared his birthday, July 18, Nelson Mandela International Day. This was the first time the UN dedicated a particular day to a person.
But intertwined in greatness, is the ability of those who walk their talk. As a friend’s post in South Africa recently reminded me ‘Madiba wrote: "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison." this after being separated by his family and his children for nearly three decades, after being considered a criminal in his own country because he spoke of a need for a democracy and equality. Uniting a nation, he visited the 94 year old Bets Verwoerd, the widow of one of the key architects of apartheid when she was in hospital and invited his White jailor as a VIP guest to his presidential inauguration.’ And we do know who got the Nobel Peace prize with him.
By K.S. Radhakrishnan
(The Author is a Traveler and a Malayalam writer)