Orange-Line

GEC #2 Nelson Mandela

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Author: Lloyd Dicks FM South Africa – GEC Co-Global Principal

“You can see that there is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires. Dangers and difficulties have not deterred us in the past, they will not frighten us now. But we must be prepared for them like men who mean business, who do not waste energy in vain talk and idle action. The way of preparation for action lies in our rooting out all impurity and indiscipline from our organization and making it the bright arid shining instrument that will cleave its way to Africa’s freedom.”

Presidential address by Mandela to the ANC (African National Congress Conference), September 21, 1953.

South Africa is a country blessed with natural wealth and a beautiful and varied landscape, the country where “the grass turns green and the flowers bloom”. A land of such rare charm but that hides a past of exhausting struggles and conflicts whose memory is still so vivid in the historical memory of its inhabitants. Primarily it has been known for its government policies towards the black African majority. Until April 1994 the white citizens ruled the country (even though they represented only 14% of the whole population) and black South Africans had been oppressed, enslaved, exploited, tortured and killed by the white government for over a hundred years.

This country is known for being the home of the world’s most famous former political prisoner and the much-celebrated freedom fighter in the 20th century. This unforgettable man ended his letters by signing “NR Mandela”, where “R” stands for Rolihlahla, his tribal name with the prophetic meaning of “troublemaker”, but all of you surely remember him as Nelson Mandela.

He was born on July 18, 1918 in Mvezo (in the Eastern Cape), but he grew up in Qunu, a village located in the Trankei territory of South Africa. Her mother was the third of five wives and he was the youngest and only boy of four children. His father was the principal counsellor to the Acting King of the Thembu people and Nelson Mandela received a high-ranking education to become a Civil Servant.

He lost his father when he was twelve and, while his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom” places the death in 1927, historical evidence shows it must have been later, most likely 1930.

Mandela became the first member of his family to go to school on the advice of his Christian mother. He chose to pursue a career in law and then he received his bachelor’s degree at the University of South Africa in 1942 and then went on to become a lawyer.

In 1944, Mandela joined the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). This group was dedicated to fighting for the freedom of South Africa’s black majority. Mandela became a leader of the organization in 1951, when he reached the presidency of the ANCYL. He led it in the direction of nonviolent resistance to apartheid and his Defiance Campaign began.  From this moment on, he travelled the country urging masses of people to join this campaign of civil disobedience. In 1956, the government arrested him for treason, a charge from which he was later acquitted.

In 1958, he married Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela to whom he will remain tied for more than thirty years, since they divorced in 1996. The fruit of this union are two daughters Zenani (1959) and Zindziswa (1960).

A significant moment in Mandela’s life and in South African history was the police massacre of unarmed black demonstrators in Sharpeville (21 March 1960) that led to the country’s first state of emergency and the banning of the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) on 8 April. Mandela began to support acts of sabotage against the government and he started to think that was the time to create a military wing within the party. This tragic episode was followed by the government’s decision to outlaw the ANC. For Mandela was the time to create a military wing within the party. Thus on December 16 1961, the Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) was born.

On 11 January 1962, using the adopted name David Motsamayi, Mandela secretly left South Africa. He travelled around Africa and visited England to gain support for the armed struggle. Precisely on the occasion of his travels he realized that the scourge of inugliance was not only concerned with the clash between whites and blacks, but was also within the black community itself and manifested itself with the clear submission of the female gender to male sovereignty .

He was arrested for having left the country without authorization and for having organized some protests. He was convicted and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and forced labor. The following year, other ten MK members were arrested for high treason. During the famous “trial that changed South Africa”, in the fall of 1963, Nelson Mandela went on trial for his life. The charges (in what is often called “the Rivonia trial” for the Johannesburg were sabotage and conspiracy. Standing in the dock at the Palace of Justice in Pretoria, Mandela said:


“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 live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”

After almost thirty years of imprisonment in the mid-1980s, growing international condemnation led to secret talks with the government, on 11 February 1990 he was finally free. Then happened negotiations for the democratic transition of the country, the elections, the years of the presidency and then the humanitarian commitment before his final retirement from public life and his death in Johannesburg on 5 December 2013.

During the 27 years he spent in prison, Mandela’s fame grew steadily. His relentless determination to liberate his black countrymen from the yokes of racial oppression and his silent made him an international symbol of resistance, a martyr in the fight against racism. Today, Mandela’s moral testament allows the whole world to have concrete tools for fighting the diversity of race and gender.