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.
Nelson Mandela (April 20, 1964)
2018 marks the centennial birth year of the legendary Nelson Mandela. Tonight, Beyonce, Pharrell, Ed Sheeran, Wizkid, Chris Martin and more will perform at the Global Citizen Festival in Johannesburg to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s lasting contribution to South Africa’s liberation from apartheid and to celebrate Mandela’s non-violence thought leadership as a way to fight for freedom. The event will take place from 9:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m EST.
Nelson Mandela: A Visionary, A Non-Violence Leader, A Legend.
Rolihlahla (Nelson) Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 into the Madiba clan in the village of Mvezo, in the Eastern Cape. His mother was Nonqaphi Nosekeni and his father was Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, principal Councillor to the Acting King of the Thembu people, Jongintaba Dalindyebo. In 1930, when he was 12 years old, his father died and the young Rolihlahla became a ward of Jongintaba at the Great Place in Mqhekezweni.
Hearing the elders’ stories of his ancestors’ valor during the wars of resistance, he dreamed also of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of his people.
He attended primary school in Qunu where his teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave him the name Nelson, in accordance with the custom of giving all schoolchildren “Christian” names.
He completed his Junior Certificate at Clarkebury Boarding Institute and went on to Healdtown, a Wesleyan secondary school, where he matriculated.
Mandela began his studies for a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University College of Fort Hare but he didn’t complete the degree there as he was expelled for joining in a student protest.
In 1941 Nelson Mandela and his cousin Justice moved to Johannesburg where he worked as a mine security officer and after a chance meeting with Lazer Sidelsky, an attorney, activist and future mentor, Mandela completed his articles through Sidelsky’s firm – Witkin, Eidelman and Sidelsky. Then he completed his BA through the University of South Africa and went back to Fort Hare for his graduation in 1943.
A two-year diploma in law on top of his BA allowed Mandela to practice law, and in August 1952 he and Oliver Tambo established South Africa’s first black law firm, Mandela & Tambo.
He then began studying for an LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand but he left the university in 1952 without graduating. In 1989, while in the last months of his imprisonment, he started studying again and obtained an LLB through the University of South Africa. He graduated in absentia at a ceremony in Cape Town.
Mandela’s Political Ascension
Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1944 when he helped to form the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). It was also during this time Mandela married Evelyn Mase, his first wife, a nurse and the mother of his oldest child Makaziwe.
Mandela rose through the ranks of the ANCYL and through its efforts, the ANC adopted a more radical mass-based policy, The Programme of Action, in 1949. The Programme of Action called on the ANC to embark on mass action, involving civil disobedience, strikes, boycotts and other forms of non-violent resistance, similar to the 1946 Passive resistance campaign mounted by the South African Indian Conference (SAIC). In 1952, the young guard in the ANC, led by Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela, in alliance with the SAIC, the Congress of Trade Unions and the Coloured Peoples’ Congress, embarked on a Defiance Campaign. This was the first major non-violent resistance campaign jointly mounted by the Black communities and a small group of White left wing activists.
In 1952 he was chosen as 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 program 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 of hard labor.
The start of the Treason Trial
Mandela was arrested in a countrywide police swoop on 5 December 1956, which led to the 1956 Treason Trial. Men and women of all races found themselves in the dock in the marathon trial that only ended when the last 28 accused, including Mandela, were acquitted on 29 March 1961.
On March 21, 1960 police killed 69 unarmed people in a protest in Sharpeville against the pass laws. This led to the country’s first state of emergency and the banning of the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) on April 8th. Mandela and his colleagues in the Treason Trial were among thousands detained during the state of emergency.
During the trial Mandela married his second wife, a social worker and a future a Member of Parliament, Winnie Madikizela, on June 14, 1958. They had two daughters, Zenani and Zindziswa.
Days before the end of the Treason Trial, Mandela traveled to Pietermaritzburg to speak at the All-in Africa Conference, which resolved that he should write to Prime Minister Verwoerd requesting a national convention on a non-racial constitution, and to warn that should he not agree there would be a national strike against South Africa becoming a republic. After he and his colleagues were acquitted in the Treason Trial, Mandela went underground and began planning a national strike for 29th, 30th and 31st of March.
In the face of 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), which launched on December 16, 1961 with a series of explosions.
On January 11, 1962, using the adopted name David Motsamayi, Mandela secretly left South Africa. He traveled 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 August 5th while returning from KwaZulu-Natal, where he had briefed ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli about his trip.
He was charged with leaving the country without a permit and inciting workers to strike. He was convicted and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, which he began serving at the Pretoria Local Prison.
On May 27, 1963 he was transferred to Robben Island and returned to Pretoria on June 12th. Within a month police raided Liliesleaf, a secret hideout in Rivonia, Johannesburg, used by ANC and Communist Party activists, and several of his comrades were arrested.
On October 9, 1963 Mandela joined 10 others on trial for sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial. While facing the death penalty his words to the court at the end of his famous “Speech from the Dock” on April 20, 1964 became immortalized:
“ 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. ”
Speech from the Dock quote by Nelson Mandela on April 20, 1964
On June 11, 1964 Mandela and seven other accused, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni, were convicted and the next day were sentenced to life imprisonment. Goldberg was sent to Pretoria Prison because he was white, while the others went to Robben Island.
Mandela’s mother died in 1968 and his eldest son, Thembi, in 1969. He was not allowed to attend their funerals.
Nelson Mandela released after 30 years in prison.
On March 31, 1982 Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town with Sisulu, Mhlaba and Mlangeni. Kathrada joined them in October. Although incarcerated Mandela’s resolve remained unbroken, and while remaining the symbolic leader of the anti-apartheid movement, he led a movement of civil disobedience at the prison that coerced South African officials into drastically improving conditions on Robben Island. But Mandela began to suffer illnesses while imprisoned. In November 1985 Mandela was taken to the hospital for prostate surgery. Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee visited Mandela in the hospital. The late South African Minister of Justice is credited with guiding the National Party in its first tentative steps towards reform, and he would eventually broker the first meeting between P W Botha, the President of South Africa, and Nelson Mandela.
On August 12, 1988 Mandela returned to the hospital where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. After more than three months in two hospitals he was transferred on December 7, 1988 to a house at Victor Verster Prison near Paarl where he spent his last 14 months of imprisonment.
In 1989 F.W. de Klerk, South African’s president finally lifted the ban on the ANC, suspended executions, and in February 1990 ordered the release of Nelson Mandela. He was released from its gates on Sunday February 11, 1990, nine days after the unbanning of the ANC and the PAC and nearly four months after the release of his remaining Rivonia comrades. Throughout Mandela’s imprisonment he had rejected at least three conditional offers of release.
Mandela immersed himself in 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 F.W. de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize and on April 27, 1994 Nelson Mandela had the freedom to vote for the first time in his life.
Nelson Mandela becomes President
On May 10, 1994 Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected President. On his 80th birthday in 1998 he married Graça Machel, his third wife.
True to his promise, 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.
In April 2007 his grandson, Mandla Mandela, was installed as head of the Mvezo Traditional Council at a ceremony at the Mvezo Great Place.
Nelson Mandela never wavered in his devotion to democracy, equality and learning. Despite terrible provocation, he never answered racism with racism. His life is an inspiration to all who are oppressed and deprived; and to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation.
He died at his home in Johannesburg on December 5, 2013.