Born on 18 July 1918 in the Transkei village close Umtata, a small farming village in South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is one of the tallest leaders to have walked on the surface of the earth. Nelson Mandela was the only child from his family to have attended school then. Mandela’s tireless efforts and fight led to eventually end the Apartheid rule in South Africa. His negotiations in the early 1990s with South African Pres. F.W. de Klerk helped end the country’s apartheid system of racial segregation and ushered in a peaceful transition to majority rule. Honouring his extraordinary role, Mandela along with de Klerk was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work toward the dismantling of Apartheid rule in 1993.
Father of the nation, Mandela was elected the first president of the Republic of South Africa in 1994. He was, therefore, the first elected black president of South Africa at the age of seventy-seven. Revolutionary, political leader, and philanthropist, Mandela served as the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.
Born to the Chief Henry Mandela of the Madiba clan of the Xhosa-speaking Tembu people, Nelson Mandela renounced his claim to the chieftainship when he decided to study and become a lawyer. Mandela went to study in the South African Native College and later at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Being the only black African student, Mandela faced racism while studying law at the University of the Witwatersrand. In 1943, Mandela met Anton Lembede, an ANC member affiliated with the “Africanist” branch of African nationalism, which was virulently opposed to a racially united front against colonialism and imperialism or an alliance with the communists.
By 1944 Mandela had joined the African National Congress (ANC), a black-liberation group. As a leader of the Youth League of the African National Congress, Mandela begins to work against the apartheid policies of the ruling National Party. Ideologically an African nationalist and socialist, he served as the president of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997.
In 1952, Mandela was arrested under the Suppression of Communism Act. He stood for trial as one of the 21 accused and was found guilty of “statutory communism”, a term that the government used to describe most opposition to apartheid, their sentence of nine months’ hard labour was suspended for two years.
Following the trial verdict, in December, Nelson Mandela was given a six-month ban from attending meetings or talking to more than one individual at a time. This made him function with the Transvaal ANC impractical. During this uprising, opposing the Apartheid system, favouring Whites over Black people, Mandela was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the 1956 Treason Trial.
By the late 1950s, Mandela was influenced by Marxism and joined the banned South African Communist Party (SACP). However, after repeated unsuccessful protests while demanding to stop the forced relocation of all black people from the Sophiatown suburb of Johannesburg in February 1955, Mandela in association with the SACP he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe in 196. He begins to believe that a violent retaliation by them was necessary to end the apartheid and white minority rule in the country.
Responding to the unrest, resulting in the deaths of 69 protesters in the Sharpeville massacre, the government implemented state of emergency measures and banned the ANC and PAC as illegal. The government, without any charge, arrested and imprisoned Mandela and other activists in Pretoria Local prison for five months. Later Mandela went underground and worked incognito and was famously called the Black Pimpernel for his ability to evade capture. In 1962 he went to Algeria for training in guerrilla warfare. On 5 August 1962, police captured Mandela along with fellow activist Cecil Williams near Howick. In October 1963 the Nelson Mandela and several other leaders were tried for sabotage, treason, and violent conspiracy in the infamous Rivonia Trial. The police raid in Rivonia had discovered quantities of arms and equipment at the headquarters of the underground Umkhonto we Sizwe.
Following his arrest, Mandela was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the state government.
While in prison, Mandela underwent numerous accounts of harassment and racist attacks. From 1964 to 1982 Mandela was incarcerated at Robben Island Prison, off Cape Town. He was later transferred to the maximum-security Pollsmoor Prison until 1988, and then to Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. Kept isolated from non-political prisoners, Mandela was imprisoned in a damp concrete cell measuring only 8 feet (2.4 m) by 7 feet (2.1 m). He was given a straw mat on which he had to sleep while serving time in the prison. In 1965, while working at a lime quarry, Mandela was initially forbidden to wear sunglasses, resulting in him permanently damaging eyesight due to the glare from the lime. Throughout his incarceration, Mandela retained wide support among South Africa’s black population, and his imprisonment became a cause célèbre among the international community that condemned apartheid.
On February 11, 1990, the South African government released Nelson Mandela from prison. Upon his release, Mandela was made the deputy president of the ANC and later president of the party in July 1991.
Leading ANC in the negotiations along with de Klerk, Mandela put an end to the apartheid system in South Africa. After winning the elections with a thumping majority in April 1994, Nelson Mandela-led ANC was sworn-in as the as president of the country’s first multiethnic government on May 10. Mandela resigned his post with the ANC in December 1997, transferring leadership of the party to his designated successor, Thabo Mbeki. Mandela did not seek a second term as South African president and was succeeded by Mbeki in 1999.
After retiring for politics, Mandela remained an active advocate of peace and equality across the globe. His strong international presence, reconciliation, and social justice, often helped people of different ethnicity to find justice. Mandela’s writings and speeches continue to be the torchbearer for justice, peace and equality. Notably, “The biography of Pandit Nehru helped me prepare for my discharge. Who wrote about what’s going on when you leave prison.
Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi
Though Nelson Mandela never met Mahatma Gandhi, he greatly influenced by him. This is visible through the book and writings the great Mandela. While paying respect after Nelson Mandela died in 2013, then President of India A P J Abdul Kalam said that Nelson Mandela always considered Mahatma Gandhi as a pioneer of apartheid movement in South Africa. “While walking I asked him, ‘Dr. Mandela, can you please tell me about the pioneers of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa?’ He responded spontaneously, ‘of course one of the great pioneers of South Africa’s freedom movement was M.K. Gandhi”, said Kalam.
“India gave us M.K. Gandhi, we gave you back Mahatma Gandhi after two decades. Mahatma Gandhi was an apostle of Non-Violence,” Mandela told Kalam.
In June 2013, his lung infection worsened and he was readmitted to a Pretoria hospital in serious condition. In September 2013, Mandela was discharged from hospital, although his condition remained unstable. After suffering from a prolonged respiratory infection, Nelson Mandela died on 5 December 2013 at the age of 95. Ten days of national mourning, a memorial service was held at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela.