Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa on July 18, 1918. His first name means "troublemaker." His life was first affected by white culture in school, when his teacher, on the first day of classes changed his name to Nelson. His father was Chief Henry Mandela of the Thembu Tribe. Mandela himself was educated at University College of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand and qualified in law in 1942. He became a jurist and opened his own law office. He joined the African National Congress in 1944 and was engaged in resistance against the ruling National Party's apartheid policies after 1948. He went on trial for treason in 1956 and was acquitted in 1961.
Mandela's Role in the Anti-Apartheid Movement
Since the beginnings of imperialism and the Dutch and British presence in South Africa, the native Africans have been treated as second-class citizens in their own land by the white settlers, known as Afrikaners. Mandela's childhood in the Transkei had sheltered him from racial discrimination. In Johannesburg, however, in the 1930s, he began to look as himself as a black man in a white society. He worked as a successful lawyer until he joined the African National Congress in the 40’s and fighting for equal rights. He was first introduced to the rights movement when he met Walter Sisulu, a member of the ANC (African National Congress) who involved Mandela with the committee in 1944. With Sisulu and other activists, Mandela formed the Youth League, a branch of the ANC with more radical approaches to fighting for rights than the ANC had ever used before. He created what they called apartheid, laws that required separation of the races in all aspects of life and created a society completely ruled by the Afrikaners. The two major laws of the Apartheid system were the Population Registration Act and the Group Areas Act, which divided the country into four regions determined by ethnic group. His, and all Africans lives were soon to be changed when the African Nationalists Party came to power in 1948 and Apartheid officially began. In 1951, Mandela was elected the president of the ANC and campaigned for the repeal of discriminatory laws. He led anti-apartheid organizations and movements and the defiance Campaign that included non-violent civil disobedience and underground fighting.
Early in 1961, in Sharpeville, South Africa, white police officers killed sixty-nine unarmed protesters in front of the Sharpeville police station. This event ignited protests all over South Africa. The same year Mandela became the leader of "Umkhonto weSizwe" ("the spear of the nation"). Forced to live apart from his family because of his participation in this quite ill mannered league, he was constantly moving from place to place to avoid detection by the government’s 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, as an armed nucleus with a view to preparing for armed struggle. In august 1962 he was arrested and put in jail for 5 years for illegal abroad travels and demands for striking. In 1964 he was sentenced again, this time for life, for his deltagelse in planning of armed fights.
Mandela, refusing to defend himself because he felt so strongly that there was nothing for him to defend, instead made a four-hour long speech, saying what he thought would be the last of his inspirational words to the African community. All 18 were instead sentenced to life in prison. His sentence began on Robben Island, doing intense labour.
For nearly 400 years, Robben Island, about 12 kilometres from Cape Town, was a place of exile where those regarded as outcasts and troublemakers were sent. During the apartheid years Robben Island was used to isolate opponents of apartheid and to crush their morale. Freedom fighters, like Nelson Mandela, spent more than a quarter of a century in prison for their beliefs. Robben Island was used at various times between the 17th and 20th centuries as a prison, a hospital for socially unacceptable groups and a military base. Since 1997 Robben Island has been a museum acting as a focal point of South African heritage. In 1999 the island was declared a World Heritage Site.
In 1984 Mandela was offered release with the conditions that Mandela could no longer associate with the ANC and would have to live in an all-black township. Unwilling to give up his role in the anti-Apartheid movement, he decided to continue his fight from within his prison cell. He was the same year transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town on mainland and in December 1988 he was moved the Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. In 1990 President Fredrick Willem de Klerk released anti-Apartheid activist Nelson Mandela from prison, after 27 years punishment for fighting for equal human rights.
After his release Mandela resumed his role as president of the ANC. The ANC and the Nationalists Party (headed by de Klerk) then made changes to the South African laws, specifically the Apartheid laws. These changes lessened the power given to the Afrikaners.
As president for the ANC (from July 1991 to December 1997) and the first black president of South Africa (from May 1994 to Jun 1999), Mandela had the superior liability for the period of transition from minority government and apartheid, and he achieved international and respect for speeches for national and international reconciliation. Some radicals were however disappointed over the social changes in his time of reign, especially the governments inefficient in the fight of restraining the spreading of AIDS.
Mandela was also criticised for his close relationship and friendship with dictators like Cube’s Fidel Castro and Libya’s Muammar Gadafil, as he preferred calling «brothers-in-arms». Mandela’s decision to use South African troops to resist the military coup in Lesotho is also a controversial subject.
Mandela’s personal life
Mandela has been married three times. His first marriage was with Evelyn Ntoko Mase, which ended in divorce in 1957 after 13 years. He had a 38 years marriage, from 1954 to 1992 with Winnie Mandela (Winnie Madikizela), which he also was divorced from after 4 years separation, due to political disagreement. On his 80 birthday, he was married with Grace Machell, widow after Samora Machell, the earlier president of Mozambique and ANC’s ally, who was killed in a fly crash 15 years earlier.
In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa. From their different points of departure, Mandela and de Klerk have reached agreement on the principles for a transition to a new political order based on the tenet of one man-one vote. By looking ahead to South African reconciliation instead of back at the deep wounds of the past, they have shown personal integrity and great political courage.