“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.”
Fortunately for the Human race he did not had to die to achieve his ideal.At 92 he is the greatest living legend on earth. He is none other than Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela who celebrated his birthday yesterday.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in the small village of Mvezo, on the Mbashe River, district of Umtata in Transkei, South Africa. His Father named him Rolihlahla, which means “pulling the branch of the tree“, or more colloquially “troublemaker.” The name Nelson was given by his first teacher in school.
In 1934 Mandela matriculated from Clarkebury Missionary school. Four years later he graduated from Healdtown, a strict Methodist college, and left to pursue higher education at the University of Fort Hare (South Africa’s first university college for Black Africans). It was here he first met his lifelong friend and associate Oliver Tambo.
Both Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo were expelled from Fort Hare in 1940 for political activism. Briefly returning to Transkei, Mandela discovered that his guardian had arranged a marriage for him. He secretly fled from marriage, towards Johannesburg, where he obtained work as a night-watchman on a gold mine.There he met Walter Sisulu and became more active in politics.
Mandela completed his BA and started to study Law.In 1944 he married Evelyn Mase, a cousin of Walter Sisulu. He also began his political career in earnest, joining the African National Congress, ANC. Finding the existing leadership of the ANC to be “a dying order of pseudo-liberalism and conservatism, of appeasement and compromise.“, Mandela, along with Tambo, Sisulu, and a few others formed the African National Congress Youth League, ANCYL. In 1947 Mandela was elected as secretary of the ANCYL, and became a member of the Transvaal ANC executive.
In 1948 the National Party (NP) contested white only national elections with a new policy called apartheid (literally apartness) and narrowly won.. Mandela was “stunned and dismayed” at the NP’s victory.
As the White minority rulers passed more and more laws of repression the youth brigade of ANC had to act.
The existing ANC president was pushed out of office and someone more amenable to the ideals of the ANCYL was brought in as a replacement. Walter Sisulu proposed a ‘programme of action’, which was subsequently adopted by the ANC. Mandela was made president of the Youth League.
Nelson Mandela opened his law office in 1952, and a few months later teamed up with Tambo to create the first Black legal practice in South Africa. It was difficult for both Mandela and Tambo to find time for both their legal practice and their political aspirations. That year Mandela became president of the Transvaal ANC, but was banned
under the Suppression of Communism Act – he was prohibited from holding office within the ANC, banned from attending ANC meetings, and restricted to the district around Johannesburg.
- On 26 June,1955 The Congress of the People was convened in Kliptown near Soweto in which 3000 delegates adopted the Freedom Charter.
Mandela was restricted from attending meeting, but he drove down to Kliptown to be part of the Congress of the People; and by keeping to the shadows and the periphery of the crowd, Mandela watched as the Freedom Charter was adopted by all the groups involved. His increasing involvement in the anti-Apartheid struggle, however, caused problems for his marriage and in December that year Evelyn left him, citing irreconcilable differences.
In December 1956 the entire leadership of ANC was arrested including Mandela.They were charged with “high treason and a countrywide conspiracy to use violence to overthrow the present government and replace it with a communist state.
” The punishment for high treason was death. The Treason Trial
dragged on, until Mandela and his 29 remaining co-accused were finally acquitted in March 1961. During the Treason Trial Nelson Mandela met and married his second wife, Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela.
The 1955 Congress of the People and its moderate stance against the policies of the Apartheid government eventually led to the younger, more radical members of the ANC to break away to form the Pan Africanist Congress, in 1959 under the leadership of Robert Sobukwe. The ANC and PAC became instant rivals, especially in the townships. This rivalry came to a head when the PAC rushed ahead of ANC plans to hold mass protests against the pass laws. On 21 March 1960 at least 69 were killed when the South African police opened fire at Sharpeville
.The Sharpeville Massacre, as the event has become known, signalled the start of armed resistance in South Africa, and prompted worldwide condemnation of South Africa’s Apartheid policies.
Both the ANC and PAC responded in 1961 by setting up military wings. Nelson Mandela, in what was a radical departure from ANC policy, was instrumental in creating the ANC group: Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, MK), and Mandela became the MK’s first commander. Both the ANC and PAC were banned by the South African government under the Unlawful Organisations Act in 1961. The MK, and the PAC’s Poqo, responded by commencing with campaigns of sabotage.
In 1962 Nelson Mandela was smuggled out of South Africa. He first attended and addressed the conference of African nationalist leaders, the Pan-African Freedom Movement, in Addis Ababa. From there he went to Algeria to undergo guerrilla training, and then flew to London to catch up with Oliver Tambo (and also to meet members of the British parliamentary opposition). On his return to South Africa, Mandela was arrested and sentenced to five years for “incitement and illegally leaving the country.
On 11 July 1963 a raid was undertaken on Lilieslief farm in Rivonia, near Johannesburg, which was being used by the MK as headquarters. The remaining leadership of the MK was arrested. Nelson Mandela was included at trial with those arrested at Lilieslief and charged with over 200 counts of “sabotage, preparing for guerrilla warfare in SA, and for preparing an armed invasion of SA
“. Mandela was given life sentence and sent to Robben Island
The above quotation was from Mandela’s speech in the court at the end of a 4 hour long statement.Here are few more excerpts from that statement given by Nelson Mandela in Pretoria Supreme Court on 20 April 1964.
“The African National Congress was formed in 1912 to defend the rights of the African people which had been seriously curtailed by the South Africa Act, and which were then being threatened by the Native Land Act. For thirty-seven years – that is until 1949 – it adhered strictly to a constitutional struggle. It put forward demands and resolutions; it sent delegations to the Government in the belief that African grievances could be settled through peaceful discussion and that Africans could advance gradually to full political rights. But White Governments remained unmoved, and the rights of Africans became less instead of becoming greater.
Even after 1949, the ANC remained determined to avoid violence. At this time, however, there was a change from the strictly constitutional means of protest which had been employed in the past. The change was embodied in a decision which was taken to protest against apartheid legislation by peaceful, but unlawful, demonstrations against certain laws. Pursuant to this policy the ANC launched the Defiance Campaign, in which I was placed in charge of volunteers. This campaign was based on the principles of passive resistance. More than 8,500 people defied apartheid laws and went to jail. Yet there was not a single instance of violence in the course of this campaign on the part of any defier. I and nineteen colleagues were convicted for the role which we played in organizing the campaign, but our sentences were suspended mainly because the Judge found that discipline and non-violence had been stressed throughout.
The stay-at-home, in accordance with ANC policy, was to be a peaceful demonstration. Careful instructions were given to organizers and members to avoid any recourse to violence. The Government’s answer was to introduce new and harsher laws, to mobilize its armed forces, and to send Saracens, armed vehicles, and soldiers into the townships in a massive show of force designed to intimidate the people. This was an indication that the Government had decided to rule by force alone, and this decision was a milestone on the road to Umkhonto.
We had no doubt that we had to continue the fight. Anything else would have been abject surrender. Our problem was not whether to fight, but was how to continue the fight. We of the ANC had always stood for a non-racial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart than they already were. But the hard facts were that fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights. It may not be easy for this Court to understand, but it is a fact that for a long time the people had been talking of violence – of the day when they would fight the White man and win back their country – and we, the leaders of the ANC, had nevertheless always prevailed upon them to avoid violence and to pursue peaceful methods. When some of us discussed this in May and June of 1961, it could not be denied that our policy to achieve a nonracial State by non-violence had achieved nothing, and that our followers were beginning to lose confidence in this policy and were developing disturbing ideas of terrorism.
It showed that a Government which uses force to maintain its rule teaches the oppressed to use force to oppose it. Already small groups had arisen in the urban areas and were spontaneously making plans for violent forms of political struggle. There now arose a danger that these groups would adopt terrorism against Africans, as well as Whites, if not properly directed. Particularly disturbing was the type of violence engendered in places such as Zeerust, Sekhukhuniland, and Pondoland amongst Africans. It was increasingly taking the form, not of struggle against the Government – though this is what prompted it – but of civil strife amongst themselves, conducted in such a way that it could not hope to achieve anything other than a loss of life and bitterness.
At the beginning of June 1961, after a 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 unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the Government met our peaceful demands with force.
ANC was prepared to depart from its fifty-year-old policy of non-violence to this extent that it would no longer disapprove of properly controlled violence. Hence members who undertook such activity would not be subject to disciplinary action by the ANC.
Four forms of violence were possible. There is sabotage, there is guerrilla warfare, there is terrorism, and there is open revolution. We chose to adopt the first method and to exhaust it before taking any other decision.
In the light of our political background the choice was a logical one. Sabotage did not involve loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations. Bitterness would be kept to a minimum and, if the policy bore fruit, democratic government could become a reality.
This then was the plan. Umkhonto was to perform sabotage, and strict instructions were given to its members right from the start, that on no account were they to injure or kill people in planning or carrying out operations. Attacks on the economic life lines of the country were to be linked with sabotage on Government buildings and other symbols of apartheid. These attacks would serve as a source of inspiration to our people. In addition, they would provide an outlet for those people who were urging the adoption of violent methods and would enable us to give concrete proof to our followers that we had adopted a stronger line and were fighting back against Government violence.
Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work which they are capable of doing, and not work which the Government declares them to be capable o Africans want to be allowed to live where they obtain work, and not be endorsed out of an area because they were not born there. Africans want to be allowed to own land in places where they work, and not to be obliged to live in rented houses which they can never call their own. Africans want to be part of the general population, and not confined to living in their own ghettoes. African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work, and not be forced into an unnatural existence in men’s hostels. African women want to be with their menfolk and not be left permanently widowed in the Reserves. Africans want to be allowed out after eleven o’clock at night and not to be confined to their rooms like little children. Africans want to be allowed to travel in their own country and to seek work where they want to and not where the Labour Bureau tells them to. Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society.
Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.
But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.
This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. 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.”
In 1976 Nelson Mandela was approached with an offer by Jimmy Kruger, the Minister for Police serving under President BJ Vorster, to renounce the struggle and settle in the Transkei. Mandela refused.
In 1986 Nelson Mandela was taken to see the Minister of Justice, Kobie Coetzee, who requested once again that he ‘renounce violence’ in order to win his freedom.This was Mandela’s response.
“What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? What freedom am I being offered when I may be arrested on a pass offence? What freedom am I being offered to live my life as a family with my dear wife who remains in banishment in Brandfort? What freedom am I being offered when I must ask for permission to live in an urban area? What freedom am I being offered when I need a stamp in my pass to seek work? What freedom am I being offered when my very South African citizenship is not respected?
Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts.
I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free.
Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return”.
Due to huge International pressure by trade boycott and increasing domestic political unrest the White Government was forced to release Nelson Mandela on 11 February 1990.
When South Africa’s first multi-racial elections were held in April 1994, the ANC won a 62% majority.
On 10 May 1994 Nelson Mandela made his inaugural presidential speech from the Union Building, Pretoria
“We dedicate this day to all the heroes and heroines in this country and the rest of the world who sacrificed in many ways and surrendered their lives so that we could be free.
Their dreams have become reality. Freedom is their reward.
We are both humbled and elevated by the honour and privilege that you, the people of South Africa, have bestowed on us, as the first President of a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist government.
We have at last, achieved our political emancipation. we pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender, and other discrimination. Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another… Let freedom reign. God Bless Africa!”
Mandela retired from active political life in June 1999 after his first term of office as President
Mandela has continued to play an active role in mediating conflicts around the world. He is also active in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and in many other charity organisation.
Nelson Mandela never wavered in his devotion to democracy, equality and learning. 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, to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation.