IF your forefathers were the owners of the land and today your people, who are treated as the lowest race are squatters banished to marginal lands which constitute less than 30 per cent of your territory and you need a pass to leave your enclave and visit other areas what would you do?
That was the future and hope-dimming situation that South African legend, Dr. Nelson Mandela faced when he was born on July 18, 1918 in South Africa to a Thembu chief, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, who lived from about 1880 to 1928.
When Mandela’s father named him ‘Rolihlahla,’ which in Xhosa language literally means “pulling the branch of a tree” but colloquially and more accurately means “troublemaker,” the political path Mandela would trudge had been wittingly or unwittingly cast in stone.
Writing on what led him into the life-time struggle in his book, A Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Mandela said: “I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, and a thousand indignities produced in me an anger; a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.”
Mandela would be a ‘troublemaker’ for the perpetrators of injustice and oppressors of his people and other down-trodden people of South Africa, irrespective of race or colour. He also got maximum trouble in return from the White-dominated rulers, who jailed him for 27 years.
Indeed, the father of modern South Africa lived up to his name. After his education at a Thembu college called Clarkebury, and Healdtown school, where students were rigorously put in routines, FortHareUniversity and the University of Witwatersrand, where he studied law, Mandela formally began the struggle 30 years after his birth when he started the anti-apartheid movement. To show how deep-seated his angst against apartheid was, he burnt his “pass,” a document that enabled him to move from his black enclave tor other areas.
He did not have emotional clutters about the kind of South Africa he dreamt as his statements and comments showed.
During the Treason Trial of 1961, Mandela, in a defence statement said: “are not anti-white, we are against white supremacy … we have condemned racialism no matter by whom it is professed.”
Upon his release from prison on February 11, 1990, Mandela said: “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…
“The apartheid destruction on our sub-continent is incalculable. The fabric of family life of millions of our people has been shattered. Millions are homeless and unemployed, our economy lies in ruins and our people are embroiled in political strife. It is our belief that the future of our country can only be determined by a body which is democratically elected on a non-racial basis.
“Negotiations on the dismantling of apartheid will have to address the overwhelming demands of our people for a democratic, non-racial and unitary South Africa.
There must be an end to white monopoly on political power and a fundamental restructuring of our political and economic system to ensure that the inequalities of apartheid are addressed and our society thoroughly democratized.”
On his inauguration as President on May 9, 1994, in Pretoria, he said of the new South Africa: “, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another…We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
At the opening of the South African parliament in Cape Town on May 25, 1994, Mandela stressed the need for a truly free and egalitarian country. “single most important challenge is therefore to help establish a social order in which the freedom of the individual will truly mean the freedom of the individual. We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political liberties and the human rights of all our citizens.”
This avowed stand on a free South Africa where every race would live in harmony and equality was a strand that ran through his words and actions all through his political struggles and reign as president and it won him international acclaim and recognition.
Fight against apartheid. Living in Johannesburg, Mandela was condemned to be involved in anti-colonial politics. He joined the Africa National Congress (ANC) and became a founding member of its youth league. After the Afrikaner nationalists of the National Party came to power in 1948 and began implementing the policy of apartheid, he rose to prominence in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign, was elected president of the Transvaal branch of the ANC and oversaw the 1955 Congress of the People. Apartheid was an official policy of forced segregation of the races and was implemented in 1948 by the National Party when it came to power in South Africa. Under apartheid, all black citizens were forced to carry passbooks stating all of their information. Two laws, which were at the heart of apartheid, included the Population Registration Act, which labeled everyone in South Africa by race, and the Group Areas Act, which forced racial groups to live in different places. In a nutshell it was the White-run government trying to separate everything between black South Africans and the white South Africans. Both laws were put into place to establish apartheid, which literally means “apartness”, the separation of the races. At that time 80 per cent of the South African population was not white and barred from voting in elections. Prime Minister Daniel Malan, who was head of the National Party, then, took racism and oppression to new heights, but Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to bringing it down no matter the personal costs including his family. Working as a lawyer, he was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and, with the ANC leadership, was prosecuted in the Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961 but was found not guilty. Although initially committed to non-violent protest, in association with the South African Communist Party he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961, leading a bombing campaign against government targets. In 1962 he was arrested, convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.
High price for freedom
Mandela served 27 years in prison, first on RobbenIsland, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. He was first arrested in July 1952 under an absurd charge accusing him of communism. From that time, he suffered an intolerably long imprisonment.
The imprisonment was meant to put him out of ‘circulation’ but instead of disappearing from view, Mandela became a prison-bound martyr and worldwide symbol of resistance to racism.
His struggles and travails entailed an unsettled family life. Mandela was married three times to the former Evelyn Mase from 1944 to 1957; Winnie Madikizela from 1958 to 1996; and Graca Machel since 1998. Winnie became a powerful figure in her own right while Mandela was imprisoned; however, her entanglement in a series of scandals led to the couple’s estrangement in 1992, her dismissal from Mandela’s cabinet in 1995, and their official divorce in 1996.
Mandela described prison time on RobbenIsland and Pollsmoor Prison as hellish It was marked by the cruelty of Afrikaner guards, backbreaking labour, and sleeping in minuscule cells which were nearly uninhabitable, he said. He contacted tuberculosis in one of the cells, an aliment that indirectly contributed to recurring appointments with doctors in later years and eventually led to his demise.
Through it all, Mandela’s greatest strength was his message of freedom, equality and human dignity, carried out through his extraordinary speeches.
An international campaign pressured and lobbied for his release, which President F.W. de Klerk granted in 1990 and lifted the ban on the ANC amid escalating civil strife.
Upon breathing the air of freedom, Mandela used his stature to help dismantle apartheid and form a new multi-racial democracy. He led negotiations with President de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections in 1994, in which he led the ANC to victory. He was elected President and he formed a Government of National Unity in an attempt to defuse ethnic tensions.
Mandela was the country’s first black president and the first elected in a fully representative, multiracial election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalised racism, poverty and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation and unity.
As President, he established a new constitution and initiated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. Continuing the former government’s liberal economic policy, his administration introduced measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty and expand healthcare services.
He served until 1999, when he was succeeded by his deputy Thabo Mbeki because he refused to seek re-election. He subsequently became an elder statesman, focusing on charitable work in combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
He served as ANC president from 1991 to 1997. Internationally, Mandela was the secretary general of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999. He acted as mediator between Libya and the United Kingdom in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial, and oversaw military intervention in Lesotho. And he and de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
He received international acclaim for his anti-colonial and anti-apartheid stance, having received over 250 awards including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Soviet Order of Lenin. South Africans hold Mandela in deep respect, describe him as the father of the nation and often refer to him by his Xhosa clan name of Madiba or as Tata meaning .
In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela believed that the long walk to equality and total freedom in South Africa ‘continues’ but now the long walk has ended with .his death.