Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela with his grandson in 1996

Mr Mandela was born into the royal family of the Tembu at Qunu, near Umtata, on 18 July 1918. The capital of the former Transkei, and now of the Eastern Cape Province. Umtata was named after the Mtata River upon whose banks it was formed.

His father was the principal councillor, to the Acting Paramount Chief of Thembuland. However, influenced by the cases that came before the Chiefs court, he was determined to become a lawyer. Hearing the elders stories of his ancestors valour during the wars of resistance in defence of their fatherland, he dreamed also of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of his people.

After receiving a primary education at a local mission school, Nelson Mandela was sent to Healdtown, a Wesleyan secondary school of some repute where he matriculated. He then enrolled at the University College of Fort Hare for the Bachelor of Arts Degree where he was elected onto the Student's Representative Council.

He was suspended from college for joining in a protest boycott. After his suspension, he went to Johannesburg where he completed his BA by correspondence. He took articles of clerkship and commenced study for his LLB. He entered politics in earnest while studying in Johannesburg.

At the height of the Second World War, a small group of young Africans banded together. These young people set themselves the formidable task of transforming the ANC into a mass movement. Deriving its strength and motivation from the unlettered millions of working people in the towns and countryside, the peasants in the rural areas, and the professionals.

In April 1944 they came together to found the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). Their goal of political organisation and action was the achievement of true democracy, South Africa and the rest of the African continent.
In such a true democracy all the nationalities and minorities would have their fundamental human rights guaranteed in a democratic Constitution. In order to achieve this the Congress Youth League and/or the National Movement struggles for:
a.the removal of discriminatory laws and colour bars;
b.the admission of the Africans into the full citizenship of the country so that they have direct representation in parliament on a democratic basis.

Mandela soon impressed his peers by his disciplined work and consistent effort. He was elected to the Secretaryship of the Youth League in 1947. In 1948 the National Party came to power in Southern Africa.

During the whole of the 1950's, Mandela was the victim of various forms of repression. He was banned, arrested, and imprisoned. For much of the latter half of the decade, he was one of the accused in the mammoth Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961. This was at great cost to his legal practice and to his political work.

The government responded with the largest military mobilisation since the war. In 1952 Mandela himself was elected to the NEC at national conference. Mandela and his co-accused had consistently advised their followers to adopt a peaceful course of action and to avoid all violence. For his part in the Defiance Campaign, Mandela was convicted of contravening the Suppression of the Communism Act, and given a suspended prison sentence. Shortly after the campaign ended, he was also prohibited from attending gatherings and confined to Johannesburg for six months.

During this period of restrictions, Mandela wrote the attorneys admission examination and was admitted to the profession.

1961 With the ANC now illegal, the leadership picked up the threads from its underground headquarters. Nelson Mandela emerged at this time as the leading figure in this new phase of struggle. Under the ANC's inspiration, 1,400 delegates came together at an All-in African Conference in Pietermaritzburg during March 1961. Mandela was the keynote speaker. In an electrifying address he challenged the apartheid regime to convene a national convention, representative of all South Africans to thrash out a new constitution based on democratic principles. Failure to comply, he warned, would compel the majority (Blacks) to observe the forthcoming inauguration of the Republic with a mass general strike. He immediately went underground to lead the campaign. Although fewer answered the call than Mandela had hoped, it attracted considerable support throughout the country. The government responded with the largest military mobilisation since the war, and the Republic was born in an atmosphere of fear and apprehension.
Moving from place to place, forced to live apart from his family, to evade detection by the governments ubiquitous informers and police spies. Mandela had to adopt a number of disguises, sometimes dressed as a common labourer, at other times as a chauffeur. His successful evasion of the police earned him the title of the Black Pimpernel. It was during this time that he, together with other leaders of the ANC, constituted a new specialised section of the liberation movement. Umkhonto we Sizwe, an armed nucleus with a view to preparing for armed struggle. At the Rivonia trial, Mandela explained : "At the beginning of June 1961, after long and anxious assessment of the South African situation, I and some colleagues came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence 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, and to form Umkhonto we Sizwe...the Government had left us no other choice."

In 1961 Umkhonto we Sizwe was formed, with Mandela as its commander-in-chief. In 1962 Mandela left the country unlawfully and travelled abroad for several months. In Ethiopia he addressed the Conference of the Pan African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa, and was warmly received by senior political leaders in several countries. During this trip Mandela, anticipating an intensification of the armed struggle, began to arrange guerrilla training for members of Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Not long after his return to South Africa, Mandela was arrested and charged with illegal exit from the country, and incitement to strike. Since he considered the prosecution a trial of the aspirations of the African people, Mandela decided to conduct his own defence.

He applied for the recusal of the magistrate, on the ground that in such a prosecution a judiciary controlled entirely by whites, was an interested party and therefore could not be impartial. And on the ground that he owed no duty to obey the laws of a white parliament, in which he was not represented.

Mandela prefaced this challenge with the affirmation: I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man.

Mandela was convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment. While serving his sentence he was charged, in the Rivonia Trial, with sabotage. Mandelas statements in court during these trials are classics in the history of the resistance to apartheid, and they have been an inspiration to all who have opposed it. His statement from the dock in the Rivonia Trial ends with these words:

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 was sentenced to life imprisonment. He started his prison years in the notorious Robben Island Prison, a maximum security prison on a small island 7Km off the coast near Cape Town

Mandela rejected an offer of release on condition that he renounce violence. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Only free men can negotiate, he said. In April 1984 he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town. 1988 he was moved the Victor Verster Prison near Paarl.

Released on 11 February 1990, Mandela plunged wholeheartedly into his life's work. Striving to attain the goals he and others had set out almost four decades earlier. In 1991, at the first national conference of the ANC held inside South Africa, Nelson Mandela was elected President of the ANC. His lifelong friend and colleague, Oliver Tambo, became the organisation's National Chairperson.

Despite terrible provocation, he has never answered racism with racism. His life has been an inspiration, in South Africa and throughout the world. To all who are oppressed and deprived, and to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation.

In a life that symbolises the triumph of the human spirit over mans inhumanity to man, Nelson Mandela accepted the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. He accepted the award on behalf of all South Africans who suffered and sacrificed so much, to bring peace to our land.

A Brief Biography

Mandela's words, "The struggle is my life," are not to be taken lightly.

Nelson Mandela personifies struggle. He is still leading the fight against apartheid with extraordinary vigour and resilience after spending nearly three decades of his life behind bars. He has sacrificed his private life and his youth for his people, and remains South Africa's best known and loved hero.

Mandela has held numerous positions in the ANC: ANCYL secretary (1948); ANCYL president (1950); ANC Transvaal president (1952); deputy national president (1952) and ANC president (1991).

He was born at Qunu, near Umtata on 18 July 1918.

His father, Henry Mgadla Mandela, was chief councillor to Thembuland's acting paramount chief David Dalindyebo. When his father died, Mandela became the chief's ward and was groomed for the chieftainship.

Mandela matriculated at Healdtown Methodist Boarding School and then started a BA degree at Fort Hare. As an SRC member he participated in a student strike and was expelled, along with the late Oliver Tambo, in 1940. He completed his degree by correspondence from Johannesburg, did articles of clerkship and enrolled for an LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand.

In 1944 he helped found the ANC Youth League, whose Programme of Action was adopted by the ANC in 1949.

Mandela was elected national volunteer-in-chief of the 1952 Defiance Campaign. He travelled the country organising resistance to discriminatory legislation.

He was given a suspended sentence for his part in the campaign. Shortly afterwards a banning order confined him to Johannesburg for six months. During this period he formulated the "M Plan", in terms of which ANC branches were broken down into underground cells.

By 1952 Mandela and Tambo had opened the first black legal firm in the country, and Mandela was both Transvaal president of the ANC and deputy national president.

A petition by the Transvaal Law Society to strike Mandela off the roll of attorneys was refused by the Supreme Court.

In the 'fifties, after being forced through constant bannings to resign officially from the ANC, Mandela analysed the Bantustan policy as a political swindle. He predicted mass removals, political persecutions and police terror.

For the second half of the 'fifties, he was one of the accused in the Treason Trial. With Duma Nokwe, he conducted the defence.

When the ANC was banned after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, he was detained until 1961 when he went underground to lead a campaign for a new national convention.

Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC, was born the same year. Under his leadership it launched a campaign of sabotage against government and economic installations.

In 1962 Mandela left the country for military training in Algeria and to arrange training for other MK members.

On his return he was arrested for leaving the country illegally and for incitement to strike. He conducted his own defence. He was convicted and jailed for five years in November 1962. While serving his sentence, he was charged, in the Rivonia trial, with sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment.

A decade before being imprisoned, Mandela had spoken out against the introduction of Bantu Education, recommending that community activists "make every home, every shack or rickety structure a centre of learning".

Robben Island, where he was imprisoned, became a centre for learning, and Mandela was a central figure in the organised political education classes.

In prison Mandela never compromised his political principles and was always a source of strength for the other prisoners.

During the 'seventies he refused the offer of a remission of sentence if he recognised Transkei and settled there.

In the 'eighties he again rejected PW Botha's offer of freedom if he renounced violence.

It is significant that shortly after his release on Sunday 11 February 1990, Mandela and his delegation agreed to the suspension of armed struggle.

Mandela has honorary degrees from more than 50 international universities and is chancellor of the University of the North.

He was inaugurated as the first democratically elected State President of South Africa on 10 May 1994 - June 1999

Nelson Mandela retired from Public life in June 1999. He currently resides in his birth place - Qunu, Transkei.

Copyright � 1997-2011