Nel­son Man­dela: A legacy of free­dom

Vuk'uzenzele - - General - Dale Hes


For­mer Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela’s legacy is closely in­ter­twined with the ideals of free­dom.

He ded­i­cated his en­tire life to fight­ing for the free­dom of the peo­ple of South Africa.

A fighter’s spirit

There is no doubt that Man­dela al­ways had a fighter’s spirit and the courage to stand up for in­jus­tice. This was first ev­i­dent in his days at the Uni­ver­sity of Fort Hare, where the young Man­dela re­fused to take his seat on the Stu­dent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil be­cause he dis­agreed with the man­ner in which elec­tions were run. De­spite fac­ing ex­pul­sion, Man­dela was stead­fast in his be­liefs and de­cided not to re­turn to the uni­ver­sity af­ter the stu­dent hol­i­days in 1940.

In 1944, Man­dela joined the ANC, be­com­ing part of a group of young in­tel­lec­tu­als (in­clud­ing Wal­ter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo) who fear­lessly cri­tiqued the way the or­gan­i­sa­tion was run and were in­stru­men­tal in form­ing the ANC Youth League. Man­dela and his com­rades showed their po­lit­i­cal savvi­ness early on, cre­at­ing the land­mark Pro­gramme of Ac­tion that the ANC would adopt sev­eral years later fol­low­ing the vic­tory of the apartheid-in­sti­gat­ing Na­tional Party in the 1948 elec­tions. The Pro­gramme of Ac­tion called for non-vi­o­lent mass protest ac­tion, in­clud­ing strikes, civil dis­obe­di­ence and boy­cotts.

In May 1950, the ANC, Com­mu­nist Party and South African In­dian Congress em­barked on the highly suc­cess­ful na­tional May Day strike. Man­dela was con­vinced that free­dom would only come from cre­at­ing a broad-based, non-racial al­liance against white mi­nor­ity rule and apartheid.

An icon in the strug­gle for free­dom

Man­dela was now recog­nised as one of the most in­flu­en­tial lead­ers of the lib­er­a­tion cam­paign. In the 1950s, he trav­elled around South Africa re­cruit­ing vol­un­teers to defy apartheid laws, es­tab­lished a le­gal prac­tice with Tambo to de­fend peo­ple af­fected by apartheid, and rose to be­come the deputy na­tional pres­i­dent of the ANC. He was ar­rested sev­eral times and a ban­ning or­der against him was re­peat­edly re­in­stated.

But noth­ing could sway Man­dela from his course. He, along with strug­gle icons such as Moses Kotane, Joe Slovo and Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, played a lead­ing role in the cre­ation of the 1955 Free­dom Char­ter – one of the most iconic dec­la­ra­tions in the strug­gle. The Free­dom Char­ter con­tained de­mands that to­day form much of the back­bone of South Africa’s Con­sti­tu­tion.

Man­dela was ac­quit­ted dur­ing the Trea­son Trial which started in 1956, af­ter which time he re­alised that pas­sive re­sis­tance against apartheid had been in­ef­fec­tive, es­pe­cially when the gov­ern­ment was re­spond­ing with vi­o­lence. This prompted the de­ci­sion to form Umkhonto we Sizwe, the mil­i­tary wing of the ANC. Man­dela was ap­pointed Com­man­der-in-Chief.

Po­lice raided an un­der­ground safe house at Lil­liesleaf Farm, Rivo­nia, in 1962, and Man­dela and his com­pa­tri­ots were sub­se­quently found guilty of trea­son in The Rivo­nia Trial and

Cre­at­ing (and liv­ing) the Con­sti­tu­tion

Man­dela played a cru­cial role in the for­ma­tion of our cur­rent Con­sti­tu­tion. The work be­gan as far back as 1960, when he and other ANC lead­ers con­vened the All-In African Con­fer­ence to dis­cuss pos­si­ble ac­tions af­ter the ban­ning of the ANC. At the con­fer­ence, Man­dela called for a na­tional con­ven­tion to draft a new non-racial demo­cratic con­sti­tu­tion for South Africa.

Man­dela was tasked with writ­ing a let­ter to Prime Min­is­ter Hen­drik Ver­wo­erd, draw­ing at­ten­tion to the res­o­lu­tion and call­ing for talks to dis­cuss the draft­ing of a new con­sti­tu­tion, but the let­ter was ig­nored. How­ever, this, in ad­di­tion to the Free­dom Char­ter, firmly laid in place the foun­da­tions for our present-day con­sti­tu­tion.

Even dur­ing his 27 years in prison, Man­dela con­tin­ued to fight for the free­dom of South Africans, hav­ing reg­u­lar cor­re­spon­dences with ANC lead­ers and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. In the 1980s, a surge in vi­o­lence forced the na­tional gov­ern­ment to con­sider the ANC’s re­quests for talks re­lat­ing to the es­tab­lish­ment of a democ­racy, and there was fierce in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to have Man­dela and other po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers re­leased.

On Fe­bru­ary 11, 1990, Man­dela walked out of the Vic­tor Ver­ster prison in Pre­to­ria to world­wide cel­e­bra­tion. The man who had fought tire­lessly to lib­er­ate all South Africans, was even­tu­ally free, and the prom­ise of free­dom in the coun­try shone bright on the hori­zon.

Free­dom re­alised

For­mal ne­go­ti­a­tions for the cre­ation of a new con­sti­tu­tion be­gan in De­cem­ber 1991, and stretched out over two years. The In­terim Con­sti­tu­tion of 1993 was for­mally en­acted on 27 April 1994, the day of our first demo­cratic elec­tion (now cel­e­brated as Free­dom Day) and the day which saw South Africans vote for their icon of free­dom, Man­dela, to be their demo­cratic Pres­i­dent.

It is fit­ting that the fi­nal Con­sti­tu­tion of the Repub­lic of South Africa was signed into law two years later by Man­dela, the man who had played such a cru­cial role in its de­vel­op­ment, and who pas­sion­ately lived the con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples of free­dom, equal­ity, non-racial­ism and so­cial jus­tice.

Man­dela’s phi­los­o­phy on free­dom was per­fectly summed up in A Long Walk to Free­dom, when he said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that re­spects and en­hances the free­dom of oth­ers.”

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