Nelson Mandela

The great south African leader Nelson Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). In 1962 he was arrested and convicted of sabotage and other charges, and sentenced to life in prison. Mandela served 27 years in prison. Following his release from prison on 11 February 1990, Mandela led his party in the negotiations that led to multi-racial democracy in 1994. As president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, he frequently gave priority to reconciliation.
Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (born 18 July 1918)

served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and was the first South African president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election.

Before his presidency, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). In 1962 he was arrested and convicted of sabotage and other charges, and sentenced to life in prison. Mandela served 27 years in prison, spending many of these years on Robben Island.

Following his release from prison on 11 February 1990, Mandela led his party in the negotiations that led to multi racial democracy in 1994. As president from 1994 to 1999, he frequently gave priority to reconciliation.

In South Africa, Mandela is often known as Madiba, an honorary title adopted by elders of Mandela’s clan.

Mandela has received more than 250 awards over four decades, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

Early life

Nelson Mandela belongs to a cadet branch of the Thembu dynasty, which reigns in the Transkeian Territories of South Africa’s Cape Province.

He was born in Mvezo, a small village located in the district of Umtata, the Transkei capital.

His patrilineal great-grandfather Ngubengcuka (who died in 1832), ruled as the Inkosi Enkhulu, or king, of the Thembu people. One of the king’s sons, named Mandela, became Nelson’s grandfather and the source of his surname.

However, because he was only the Inkosi’s child by a wife of the Ixhiba clan (the so called “Left-Hand House”, the descendants of his branch of the royal family were not eligible to succeed to the Thembu throne.

Mandela’s father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, served as chief of the town of Mvezo.

However, upon alienating the colonial authorities, they deprived Mphakanyiswa of his position, and moved his family to Qunu. Despite this, Mphakanyiswa remained a member of the Inkosi’s Privy Council, and served an instrumental role in Jongintaba Dalindyebo’s ascension to the Thembu throne.

Dalindyebo would later return the favour by informally adopting Mandela upon Mphakanyiswa’s death. Mandela’s father had four wives, with whom he fathered thirteen children (four boys and nine girls). Mandela was born to his third wife (‘third’ by a complex royal ranking system), Nosekeni Fanny.

Fanny was a daughter of Nkedama of the Mpemvu Xhosa clan, the dynastic Right Hand House, in whose umzi or homestead Mandela spent much of his childhood. His given name Rolihlahla means “to pull a branch of a tree”, or more colloquially, “troublemaker”.

Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island

Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island

Rolihlahla Mandela became the first member of his family to attend a school, where his teacher Miss Mdingane gave him the English name “Nelson”.

When Mandela was nine, his father died of tuberculosis, and the regent, Jongintaba, became his guardian. Mandela Attended a Wesleyan mission school located next to the palace of the regent.

Following Thembu custom, he was initiated at age sixteen, and attended Clarkebury Boarding Institute. Mandela completed his Junior Certificate in two years, instead of the usual three. Designated to inherit his father’s position as a privy councillor, in 1937 Mandela moved to Healdtown, the Wesleyan college in Fort Beaufort which most Thembu royalty attended. At nineteen, he took an interest in boxing and running at the school.

After enrolling, Mandela began to study for a Bachelor of Arts at the Fort Hare University, where he met OliverTambo.

Tambo and Mandela became life long friends and colleagues. Mandela also became close friends with his kinsman, Kaiser (“K.D.”) Matanzima who, as royal scion of the Thembu Right Hand House, was in line for the throne of Transkei, a role that would later lead him to embrace Bantustan policies.

His support of these policies would place him and Mandela on opposing political sides. At the end of Nelson’s first year, he became involved in a Students’ Representative Council boycott against university policies, and was told to leave Fort Hare and not return unless he accepted election to the SRC. Later in his life, while in prison, Mandela studied for a Bachelor of Laws from the University of London External Programme.

Shortly after leaving Fort Hare, Jongintaba announced to Mandela and Justice (the regent’s son and heir to the throne) that he had arranged marriages for both of them. The young men, displeased by the arrangement, elected to relocate to Johannesburg. Upon his arrival, Mandela initially found employment as a guard at a mine.

However, the employer quickly terminated Mandela after learning that hewas the Regent’s runaway ward. Mandela later started work as an articled clerk at a Johannesburg law firm, Witkin, Sidelsky and Edelman, through connections with his friend and mentor, realtor Walter Sisulu.

While working at Witkin, Sidelsky and Edelman, Mandela completed his B.A.degree at the University of South Africa via correspondence, after which he began law studies at the University of Witwatersrand, where he first befriended fellow students and future anti-apartheid political activists Joe Slovo, Harry Schwarz and Ruth First. Slovo would eventually become Mandela’s Minister of Housing, while Schwarz would become his Ambassador to Washington. During this time, Mandela lived in Alexandra Township, north of Johannesburg.

Political activity

After the 1948 election victory of the Afrikaner dominated National Party, which supported the apartheid policy of racial segregation, Mandela began Actively participating in politics. He led prominently in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1955 Congress of the People, whose adoption of the Freedom Charter provided the fundamental basis of the antiapartheid cause. During this time, Mandela and fellow lawyer Oliver Tambo operated the law firm of Mandela and Tambo, providing free or low-cost legal counsel to many blacks who lacked attorney representation.

Mahatma Gandhi influenced Mandela’s approach, and subsequently the methods of succeeding generations of South African anti-apartheid activists. Mandela even took part in the 29-30 January 2007 conference in New Delhi marking the 100th anniversary of Gandhi’s introduction of Satyagraha (non-violent resistance) in South Africa. Initially committed to nonviolent resistance, Mandela and 150 others were arrested on 5 December 1956 and charged with treason. The marathon Treason Trial of 1956-1961 followed, with all defendants receiving acquittals. From 1952-1959, a new class of black activists known as the Africanists disrupted ANC activities in the townships, demanding more drastic steps against the National Party regime. The ANC leadership under Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu felt not only that the Africanists were moving too fast but also that they challenged their leadership.

The ANC leadership consequently bolstered their position through alliances with small White, Coloured,and Indian political parties in an attempt to give the appearance of wider appeal than the Africanists. The Africanists ridiculed the 1955 Freedom Charter Kliptown Conference for the concession of the 100,000-strong ANC to just a single vote in a Congressional alliance. Four secretaries general of the five participating parties secretly belonged to the reconstituted South African Communist Party (SACP).

In 2003 Blade Nzimande, the SACP General Secretary, revealed that Walter Sisulu, the ANC Secretary-General, secretly joined the SACP in 1955 which meant all five Secretaries General were SACP and thus explains why Sisulu relegated the ANC from a dominant role to one of five equals.

In 1959, the ANC lost its most militant support when most of the Africanists, with financial support from Ghana and significant political support from the Transvaal based Basotho, broke away to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) under the direction of Robert Sobukwe and Potlako Leballo.

Anti-apartheid activities

in 1961, Mandela became leader of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (translated Spear of the Nation, and also abbreviated MK), which he co-founded. He coordinated sabotage campaigns against military and government targets, making plans for a possible guerrilla war if the sab otage failed to end apartheid. Mandela also raised funds for MK abroad and arranged for paramilitary training of the group.

Fellow ANC member Wolfie Kadesh explains the bombing campaign led by Mandela: “When we knew that we [sic] going to start on 16 December 1961, to blast the symbolic places of apartheid, like pass offices, native magistrates courts, and things like that … post offices and … the government offices. But we were to do it in such a way that nobody would be hurt, nobody would get killed.” Mandela said of Wolfie: “His knowledge of warfare and his first hand battle experience were extremely helpful to me.”

Mandela described the move to armed struggle as a last resort; years of increasing repression and violence from the state convinced him that many years of non-violent protest against apartheid had not and could not achieve any progress.

To be continued……

Comments are closed.