Reading this first hand and beautifully written account of Nelson Mandela’s life is an extraordinary opportunity. Nelson Mandela, a South African freedom fighter and unfortunately a political prisoner for 27 years his own saga of eradicating the apartheid system from the country. African National Congress struggled and finally, Mandela was the first black president.
The Birth of the Mischievous Child
Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, in a petite village in South Africa’s Transkei region. He was named Rolihlahla by his father, which colloquially translated to “troublemaker” in their language. Mandela was born to a noble lineage. His father held the position of the chief of the Thembu tribe. In his childhood, Mandela was a herd boy looking after cattle and sheep. He mainly ate “mealies” corn as his food. He attended a small one-room school in his village, often wearing his father’s cutoff pants secured by a string around the waist.
In his words-
“My life, and that of most Xhosas...was shaped by custom, ritual, and taboo.”
Mandela’s father passed away when he was just nine and his family sent him to live with Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the Thembu’s acting regent in Mqhekezweni, “the great place,” Thembuland’s provincial capital. He received a better education for a black South African of his generation. He studied in a reputed college named as Wesleyan college in Fort Beaufort, and at the University College of Fort Hare, in Alice. While he was a student, the regent tried to arrange his marriage to a daughter of a Thembu priest. He refused and ran away to Johannesburg.
His Journey to a Rebellion
Mandela started his career as a night watchman at Crown Mines, it was a local gold mine. He utilized subterfuge to get this job, lying about the approval he has got from the well-reputed regent. Mine officials learned the truth and told Mandela to return immediately to Mqhekezweni. Refusing to leave Johannesburg, Mandela stayed with a cousin for some time. Then he moved in with Reverend J. Mabutho, but after knowing his truth, reverent arranged for him to stay with neighbors.
Mandela went to work as a clerk for the law firm of Witkin, Sidelsky, and Eidelman and took correspondence courses from the University of South Africa. Despite his poverty, his eventual goal was to be a lawyer. In 1942, Mandela earned his bachelor’s degree. He enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand for his law degree. He was the only black law student.
Fight for Freedom
African National Congress had its young member, Mandela. He convinced the ANCD’s head to take a more substantial step towards the black people’s equal rights. During this period of his life, Mandela also got married to Evelyn Mase, his first wife.
“Apartheid was the policy for arranging the laws and regulations that had kept Africans in an inferior position to whites for centuries. In 1948, the National Party became the ruling party in South Africa and applied apartheid, the political separation and oppression of blacks. The nationalist party restricted black people’s freedom. This agitated the rebellion in Mandela and him along with his party started civil disobedience.
He got arrested and was confined for a brief period of time and later again got arrested along with the ANP members and was put to trial. The court sentenced them to nine months of imprisonment for communism but later suspended the sentence.
By 1952, Mandela had inaugurated a law firm with Oliver Tambo. The authorities insulted them as “kaffir” lawyers, a racial slander. Their firm represented blacks in various police brutality cases but always lost in court. In 1953, The Nationalist government moved blacks to rural areas and gave their homes to white people. This angered Mandela and he decided to give up the passive resistance. He was considered as dangerous and was banned in politics until some years.
In 1956, the South African security police arrested Mandela and 155 other leaders, including nearly every ANC official. The charge was high treason, but the leaders were released pending trial. Mandela was accused of his ANC members that they were trying to create a Russian- Style Government.
Mandela’s marriage was on the rocks. Evelyn left with their sons Makgatho and Thembi, and their daughter, Makaziwe. Shortly after, Mandela fell in love with Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela, known as Winnie. He remarried Winnie and she was active in the women's ANC group.
The interminable “treason trial” finally ended in March 1961, after four years. Though found innocent, Mandela went into hiding. The security forces issued new warrants for his arrest. He traveled surreptitiously, sometimes posing as a chauffeur or a “garden boy.” The government set up roadblocks to prevent his movements. Newspapers began to write about the former high-profile freedom fighter, now a mysterious will-o’-the-wisp. They called him the “Black Pimpernel.”
Before long, the South African police arrested Mandela for fomenting strikes and for leaving the country without the proper documents. Mandela defended himself at his 1962 trial but did not contest the charges. Finding him guilty, the judge sentenced him to five years in prison with no parole. He was sent to Robben Island, where white jailers greeted him with, “This is the island where you will die!” Soon the authorities brought new charges, for sabotage, against Mandela and the other freedom fighters. The government produced 173 witnesses against them. People worldwide demonstrated on behalf of Mandela and his comrades, but in 1964 they were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island.
Their cells were damp, cramped, and unpleasant. Inside the walls, the “Coloureds” (mixed-race peoples) and the Indians received the best (though not good) food. Mandela and the other blacks received the worst.
“I wanted South Africa to see that I loved even my enemies while I hated the system that turned us against one another.
Mandela always had to be on guard in jail. Once he turned down a warden who offered to help him escape. Later, he learned that the man was with the Bureau of State Security. His plan was that Mandela would be “accidentally” killed during the escape.
“I am told that when ‘Free Mandela’ posters went up in London, most young people thought my Christian name was Free.” - Mandela
More black South Africans than ever before joined the fight for freedom. New militant groups formed. The ANC’s popularity increased. The townships were in an uproar. Violence escalated. In 1985, the government offered to free Mandela if he renounced violence. Though he refused, he now believed it was time to negotiate with the Nationalists. As the de facto leader of the freedom movement, he met first with a special committee of Nationalist officials. Their initial topic was the armed struggle. The Nationalists said violence against the state was criminal. Mandela said the state “was responsible for the violence” and that the oppressor, not the oppressed, always “dictates the form of the struggle.”
In early 1990, de Klerk freed Mandela and seven of his comrades. Mandela had been imprisoned for 27 years. De Klerk also began to dismantle apartheid. In December, the two men met. The push for black freedom now moved with startling speed.
In 1993, the ANC and de Klerk’s administration announced plans for a “government of national unity,” calling for South Africa to hold its first truly democratic election the next year. For their efforts, Mandela and de Klerk received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. In April 1994, the ANC won 62.6% of the vote. Shortly thereafter, Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa. He served until 1999.
Work remains to be done. Mandela has not achieved his full original goal, “to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor,” though his country has taken bold steps forward. For now, He says, “We have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed.”