NELSON MANDELA 100 YEARS AFTER
What is it that makes a leader stand out not only among men, but also among his peers? Is it their vision or courage? Or perhaps the ability of the leader to lead where others fear to tread?
it is all of those qualities and so much more that took Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela on a life changing journey from the a small village of Mveso, a rural area of the Transkei in the Eastern Cape of South Africa to being South Africa’s first democratically elected black president in 1994. A journey marked by a continuous struggle against inequality, racism, poor education and poverty despite being imprisoned by the South African white minority powers in 1963. Mandela’s early life took a significant turn when Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the acting regent of the Thembu people, adopted him after his father’s death. He was nine years old. Having to relocate from the village of Qunu to the more sophisticated environment of Mqhekezweni, the provincial capital of Thembuland, the chief's royal residence, Mandela was destined for greater things and given the same status and responsibilities as the regent's two other children. After school, the University College of Fort Hare in Eastern Cape, the only residential centre of higher learning for black Africans in South Africa at the time beckoned, drawing scholars from all parts of Sub-Sahara Africa. In his first year at the university, Mandela took the required courses, but focused on Roman Dutch law to prepare for a career in civil service as an interpreter or clerk—regarded as the best profession that a black man could obtain at the time, bearing in mind that South Africa was a British colony at the time ruled by white people. But it was in his second year when Mandela was elected to the Student Representative Council that student politics played a major role. For a while, students had been unhappy with the food and lack of power held by the Student Representative Council (SRC). A boycott was launched and Mandela resigned from his SRC position. This was, according to the authorities, an act of insubordination and they demanded he serve on the SRC. The regent, head of his adopted family, was also furious and demanded from Mandela that he recants his position and return to Fort Hare. Seeing this as an act of insubordination, the university's Dr Kerr expelled Mandela for the rest of the year and gave him an ultimatum: He could return to the school if he agreed to serve on the SRC. When Mandela returned home, the regent was furious, telling him unequivocally that he would have to recant his decision and go back to school. While back at home, he received news that the regent had arranged a marriage for him as was custom, but shocked by this news and recent events, Mandela departed from his family home and settled in Johannesburg, working a variety of jobs while completing his bachelor's degree via correspondence courses and eventually enrolling at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg to study law. RISE OF A REVOLUTIONARY Already an independent mind, it was just a matter of time before he joined the African National Congress in 1942. During those early turbulent years in Johannesburg, Mandela was introduced to the realtor and ANC activist Walter Sisulu, who secured him a job as an articled clerk at law firm Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman. The company was run by a liberal Jew, Lazar Sidelsky, who was sympathetic to the ANC's cause. Mandela realised that the ANC’s old tactics of polite petitioning were ineffective and in 1949, the ANC officially adopted the Youth League's methods of boycott, strike, civil disobedience and non-co-operation with policy goals of full citizenship, redistribution of land, trade union rights, and free and compulsory education for all chil-
dren, propelling Mandela to the forefront of a political battle that would see him being put on trial for treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela soon rose quickly through the ranks of the ANC and in 1950 was voted President of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and he took a seat on the ANC National Executive. After passing qualification exams to become a full-fledged attorney, Mandela and Oliver Tambo opened their own law firm, Mandela and Tambo, in downtown Johannesburg. Being the only African-run law firm in the country, it soon became popular with aggrieved African black people, often dealing with cases of police brutality. The firm soon got noticed by the South African authorities and was forced to relocate to a remote location after their office permit was removed under the Group Areas Act – a cornerstone piece of apartheid legislation. Mandela had met many people across the political spectrum who were opposed to the South African Government and was actively involved in mobilising the masses and publically protesting against the South African authorities such as the Defiance Campaign. This led to him and other high profile ANC members being arrested and put on trial. On 5 December 1956, Mandela was arrested alongside most of the ANC Executive for "high treason" against the state and on 29 March 1961, after a six-year trial, the judges produced a verdict of not guilty, embarrassing the government. Inspired by Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution, the armed wing of the ANC “Umkhonto we Sizwe” ("Spear of the Nation", abbreviated MK) was founded in 1961, with Mandela co-founding this wing with the long-time leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP), Joe Slovo and Walter Sisulu. Interestingly, MK agreed to acts of sabotage to exert pressure on the South African Government, by bombing military installations, power plants, telephone lines and transport links at night, when civilians were not present. Mandela stated that they chose sabotage not only because it was the least harmful action, but also "because it did not involve loss of life [and] it offered the best hope for reconciliation among the races afterwards." Soon after then ANC leader Albert Luthuli was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, MK publicly announced its existence with 57 bombings on 16 December 1961, followed by further attacks on New Year's Eve. The South African Government, however, kept a close eye on the activities of the ANC and MK, and after raiding a property now famously known as Liliesleaf Farm in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia and arresting numerous high command figures of the ANC including Mandela, it resulted in South Africa’s foremost and famous trial starting on 9 October 1963. Mandela gave a now famous three-hour speech at the opening of the defence’s proceedings and the trial quickly gained international attention, with global calls for the release of all political prisoners from such institutions as the United Nations and World Peace Council. The South African Government generally deemed Mandela and his co-defendants violent communist saboteurs, and on 12 June 1964, Justice Quartus de Wet found Mandela and two of his co-accused guilty on all four charges, sentencing them to life imprisonment rather than death, thus sealing the fate of his incarceration on Robben Island from 1964 until 1982. A NEW DAWN After spending 18 years in prison on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Tokai, a suburb of Cape Town in 1982 along with other senior ANC leaders. This was an attempt by the South African Government to remove their influence on younger activists. However, with mounting international pressure and sanctions against South Africa, increased MK attacks in South Africa together with support from activists from both within and outside of South Africa, coupled with economic stagnation and a change of leadership within the South African Government, and significant change was brought about when the conservative President P.W. Botha stepped down and was replaced by a more youthful Frederik Willem de Klerk (F.W de Klerk). With increasing local and international pressure for his release, the government participated in several talks between Mandela and F.W. de klerk at the helm of government. The result was positive in terms of Mandela’s release being finally announced - February 11, 1990 marking a special day in South African history when Mandela’s release was announced. With it came the unbanning of the
ANC and various political groups – a watershed moment in the struggle for equality, justice and democracy for all races in South Africa. On the dawn of a new South Africa, Nelson Mandela was one of the pivotal figures in securing true freedom for people in a country that was dominated by a white minority for decades dating back 400 years when the Dutch seafarer Jan van Riebeek landed his ships in the Cape. With the first democratic election set for 27 April 1994, the ANC campaigned on a Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), promising to build a million houses in five years, introduce universal free education and extend access to water and electricity. The party's slogan was "a better life for all", and Nelson Mandela devoted much time to fundraising for the ANC, touring North America, Europe and Asia to meet wealthy donors, including former supporters of the apartheid regime. The African majority voted overwhelmingly in favour of the ANC in a sweeping victory, and the newly elected National Assembly’s first act was to elect a new president – Nelson Mandela himself. The inauguration of South Africa’s first black president and democratic South Africa in itself was a global event with leaders from all over world from the opposite ends of political spectrum attending. But Mandela had no easy task ahead of him – the new democratic administration inherited a country with a huge disparity in wealth and services between white and black communities. Such was the greatness of the man who would leave a legacy for generations to come that Mandela had the vision and foresight to preside over the transition from apartheid minority rule to a multicultural democracy. He made national reconciliation a primary task of his presidency, having seen other post-colonial African economies damaged by the departure of white elites, and he sought to calm the fears of whites within the country by reassuring South Africa's white population that they were protected and represented in "the Rainbow Nation", even incorporating opposition members into a coalition government. “Courageous people do not fear forgiving for the sake of peace” – became a very relevant saying by Mandela when he personally met with senior figures of the apartheid regime, emphasising personal forgiveness and reconciliation. He encouraged black South Africans to get behind the previously hated national rugby team, the Springboks, as South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup. After the Springboks won a celebrated final over New Zealand, Mandela presented the tro-
Nelson Mandela in his cell.