Nelson Mandela

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During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for. But my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
—Rivonia Trial, 1964[1]

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918—2013) was the first democratically elected president of South Africa and leader of the African National Congress. He is famous for his leading role in the liberation of the country and the demolition of apartheid. He was imprisoned for 27 years during his campaign and was released on February 11, 1990. He began a policy of negotiation and reconciliation with the former leaders of the apartheid government known as ubuntu when he was elected as President of South Africa in 1994.

On December 5, 2013, Mandela died, following a persistent lung infection. Despite frequent howlings to the contrary by racists and naysayers, the country did not disintegrate into racial violence upon his death.

Anti-apartheid work[edit]

In the ANC[edit]

After the racial segregationist National Party won in the 1948 South African election, Nelson Mandela worked in the ANC's Defiance Campaign in 1952 and the Congress of the People in 1955, both major anti-apartheid movements. On December 5, 1956, Mandela and 150 others were arrested and charged with treason, but were summarily acquitted.

In 1961, Mandela led the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed division of the ANC. Though influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, Mandela considered that he would use armed tactics as a last resort, and seeing an increase in suppression and violence from the state (particularly the Sharpeville MassacreWikipedia) was enough to convince him to do so. During his time in the Umkhonto we Sizwe Mandela coordinated acts of sabotage on military and government targets, initiated a bombing campaign against symbols of apartheid government (such as pass offices and magistrate courts) in a way that no one would be hurt[citation needed] and waged a guerrilla war against the National Party. Many civilians died during the war, causing Mandela to admit that the ANC had violated human rights in its attempt to end apartheid.

Arrest, imprisonment and release[edit]

After being on the run for 17 months, Mandela was caught and arrested by security police (thanks to the CIA, who tipped them off). After a lengthy trial process, where Mandela was charged with crimes ranging from leading a workers' strike in 1961 to planning a foreign invasion of South Africa (which he denied), Mandela was sentenced to life and imprisoned on Robben Island. Being both a person of color and a political prisoner, Mandela had the worst conditions in prison, but he was still able to earn a degree of Bachelor of Laws through the University of London's External Program and begin work on an autobiography (Mandela had already been a professional lawyer).

In March 1982 Mandela was transferred from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison, along with other senior ANC leaders, as a tactic by National Party Justice minister Kobie Coetsee in order to enable discreet contact between them and the South African government. Meetings between Mandela and members of the National Party were held from then on, including the organization of a deal in 1985 with then-State President P. W. Botha where Mandela was offered freedom in exchange for renouncing armed struggle against the government. Mandela refused the deal.

Pressure had been put on the South African government to release Mandela since the start of his incarceration. In 1989, this became a reality when Botha suffered a stroke and was replaced as state president by F. W. de Klerk, who lifted the ban on anti-apartheid organizations like the ANC and released Mandela in February 1990.


South Africa's first democratic elections in which full enfranchisement was granted were held on April 27, 1994. The ANC won 62% of the votes in the election and Mandela was inaugurated on May 10, 1994 as the country's first black president. Through his time as president, Mandela brought the black South African population into equal power with the white South Africans and began to make reparations to the country, both nationally and internationally. The most notable effort was the philosophy of ubuntu (a Bantu word roughly translated as "humanity towards others") in order to bring the divided people closer. This was implemented through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where a series of hearings were held with members of the former apartheid government explaining what they did and why, asking for forgiveness, allowing many grieving families to obtain closure and hopefully give it. Former anti-apartheid guerrillas/terrorists went through the same process.


Though out of office, Mandela was involved in various charitable activities, human rights organizations and political events. The most prominent of these were his contributions to the fight against HIV/AIDS, and his criticisms of George W. Bush's administration in USA and of Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe.

He died in 2013, at the age of 95. People from around the world attended his funeral, which is best remembered for a deranged individual somehow managing to get within reach of all the attending dignitaries so he could do the "sign language" interpretation for the speakers at the funeral despite not actually knowing any form of sign language. No one figured out what the hell was going on until afterwards, when a few deaf attendees commented on how terrible the guy was. When pressed on this, he claimed he received a mission from god and his angels, and made up the signs based on divine instruction.


In 1993, Mandela and F. W. de Klerk, his predecessor as President of South Africa, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.[note 1]

On March 31, 2004, Sandton Square in Johannesburg, South Africa was renamed Nelson Mandela Square in the politician's honor, complete with a 20-foot-tall statue of him.

On August 29, 2007, another statue was erected in Mandela's likeness and name in Parliament Square in London, the event being presided over by top members of the British government, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Two zoologists named a new species of South African trapdoor spider after Mandela, calling it Stasimopus mandelai. Though probably not as welcome as the previous honors, it's the thought that counts.

The United States also gave him an extra award - a spot on the coveted list of terrorists. This is a list shared with such great folks as Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. It is widely thought that eventually the list will be expanded to include the Dalai Lama and Arlen Specter.[note 2] On July 1, 2008, someone finally decided to take him off the list.[2]

The U.S. listed Mandela as a terrorist up to 2008, preventing him from entering the country. It was also not the only country to view Mandela this way. Margaret Thatcher also said that:

A considerable number of the ANC leaders are Communists... When the ANC says that they will target British companies, this shows what a typical terrorist organisation it is. I fought terrorism all my life... I will have nothing to do with any organisation that practises violence. I have never seen anyone from ANC or the PLOWikipedia or the IRA and would not do so.[3]

Mandela had apologized for some of the crimes the ANC committed while fighting against apartheid. Even so, the fact that the apartheid regime committed horrible atrocities itself (including what many would call state terrorism), appears not to have bothered Thatcher or Ronald Reagan for a long time. Mandela stated his alliance with the communists was simple pragmatism—they were the only group that would help the ANC in their struggle, whereas leaders of the "free world" sided with the apartheid regime because it was anti-communist. Proving just how "communist" they were, after apartheid was ended, the ANC scrapped their more socialist-leaning policies very quickly. Of course, the Soviet Union had dissolved just before Apartheid ended so pretending to be communist ceased to be a lucrative career.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  • Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. 1994, Little Brown & Co.


  1. Two people more deserving of that honor than some I can think of.
  2. He's gonna spread his evil contagious cancer to all of us, and his liberalism.