The twentieth century saw many humanitarians, politicians, artists, writers, scientists and many historic figures that would be lauded for the centuries to come. One such influential person is Nelson (Rohlihlahla) Mandela who timelessly remains the Father of South Africa . Through his 95 year old life, Madiba, as he is fondly called by his admirers, demonstrated how patience and peace can mobilize masses to fight for their rights.
Mandela was born in a royal Thembu family on June 18, 1918 to Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela in the then South African village Mvezo. His father died when he was about 9 and his mother entrusted him to the regent Jongintaba and his wife Noengland of the Great Palace at Mqhekezweni. He attended a mission school along with Justice and Nomafu, the children of the regent. Completing Junior certificate in Clarkebury Boarding Institute in Engcobo, Mandela matriculated from Healdtown in 1939.
He enrolled at the University of Fort Hare to pursue the Bachelor of Arts course where he met his close friend Oliver Tambo. He was temporarily suspended from the college for his involvement in a student boycott and he left the college without degree. On his return to the Palace, Jogintaba insisted that he should go back to Fort Hare or get married. Justice and Mandela ran away and arrived in Johannesburg in 1941.
He first worked as a night watchman at Crown Mines and then, with the help of Walter Sisulu, an African National Congress (ANC) activist, worked as a law clerk at a firm of attorneys Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman. While at the firm, he got associated with members of ANC and Communist Party. He completed his Bachelor’s degree from University of South Africa by correspondence.
During his LLB at University of Witwatersrand, Mandela was exposed to racism and subsequently joined the ANC in 1944. He felt the necessity of a youth wing to mobilize the African youth and founded the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) with Anton Lembede as President. He met Evelyn Ntoko Mase and married her on October 5. 1944.
The National Party which won the general election in 1948 in which only the whites were allowed to vote, introduced apartheid – a racial segregation system that oppressed the blacks by denying them their rights. Mandela led a passive resistance movement through boycotts and strikes. He rose to the rank of the national president of ANCYL in 1950.
As the National Volunteer-in-Chief, Mandela traveled across the country to mobilize masses for the 1952 Defiance campaign. The campaign was suppressed by mass arrests and fierce legislation. In 1956, as the Congress of the People – an alliance of the ANC, the South African Indian Congress, the South African Congress of Democrats and the Coloured People’s Congress – adopted the Freedom Charter (It’s opening demand is “The People Shall Govern”), Mandela, along with 155 others, was charged with Treason Trial, imprisoned and acquitted in 1961.
After the 1961 Shaperville Massacre, Mandela and colleagues felt the need for an armed struggle and formed a military wing ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe’ with Mandela as commander in chief. He left the country in disguise as ‘David Motsamayi’ in 1961 to appeal to the world for support and made several influential friends. Soon after he returned to South Africa, he was arrested on August 5th, 1962 and jailed for 5 years on charges of illegal exit from the country and incitement to strike.
While he was still serving the sentence, Mandela was brought to trial again in 1963. He was accused along with 10 other ANC activists in Rivonia trail under charges including sabotage and violent revolution. They were found guilty and were sent to Robben Island for life imprisonment on June 12, 1964. During his incarceration, as a black prisoner, he received meager treatment for Tuberculosis he developed. He refused the offers made in 1976 and 1986 for remission of sentence in exchange for renouncing struggle and violence.
Mandela rose to international stardom and by 1982, the pressure from other countries on the South African government to release him and his comrades was swelling. Subsequently, after 18 years, in March 1982, Mandela and Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba and Andrew Mlangeni were shifted to the Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town. In 1988, after he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, he was Victor Versten Prison.
FW de Klerk, the then President of South Africa lifted ban on all political parties and ordered the release of political prisoners. Mandela, 71, was released on February 11, 1990 after 27 years of imprisonment. In the ensuing years, he grew only stronger as the leader to South Africa’s peace. The ANC met in 1991 to elect him as the President and Oliver Tambo as the National Chairperson.
Mandela and Klerk were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1993 for their efforts to bring about constitutional change in South Africa. After the era of Apartheid came to an end in 1994, the ANC won the first multi-racial election in the country with 62% majority and made Mandela the President. He took oath as the President of democratic South Africa on May 10, 1994.
Until he retired from politics in 1999, he led the country to black majority rule from minority rule and signed in new constitution. Owing to deteriorating health, Mandela withdrew from public life in 2005 and returned to his native village of Qunu. He made his last public appearance in the closing ceremony of the 2010 FIFA world cup. He was hospitalized several times between 2010 and 2013 and on December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95 in his Johannesburg home.
The United Nations General Assembly honored him by announcing his birthday, July 18 as Mandela day.
The equal society he dreamed of, where the people govern, would continue to be the vision of the younger generations. He would remain the source of inspiration for the oppressed and for those who are on their side. Our Madiba shall be respected and worshipped by blacks and whites alike as long as history lives.
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall”