Nelson Mandela , Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, byname Madiba, (born 18 July 1918, Mvezo, South Africa—died 5 December 2013, Johannesburg)
Nelson Mandela was a Black Nationalist and the first Black president of South Africa (1994 – 99). He helped end the apartheid system of racial segregation and led the country to a multiracial democracy. In 1993, Mandela was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.
Mandela was the son of Chief Henry Mandela of the Madiba clan of the Xhosa-speaking Tembu people. He was due to be the next Chief in line, but he renounced this position to become a lawyer instead. In 1944 he joined the African National Congress (ANC), a Black-liberation group, and became a leader of its Youth League.
In 1952 in Johannesburg, Mandela, with fellow ANC leader Oliver Tambo, established South Africa’s first Black law practice, specializing in cases resulting from the post-1948 apartheid legislation. That same year, Mandela launched a resistance campaign against South Africa’s pass laws, a law that required non-whites to carry documents authorizing their presence in areas that were deemed as restricted for only the white population. Mandela travelled throughout the country to build support for nonviolent protesting against the segregationist laws. In 1955 he was involved in drafting the Freedom Charter, a document calling for nonracial social democracy in South Africa.
In 1960, Mandela abandoned his nonviolent approach to activism after the massacre of unarmed Black South Africans by police in Sharpeville and the subsequent banning of the ANC. He began advocating for acts of sabotage against the South African regime. He then went underground and founded the military wing of the ANC known as the Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”). In 1962, Mandela commenced training in guerrilla warfare in Algeria. When he returned to South Africa later that year he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison.
A year later, imprisoned Mandela and several others were tried for sabotage, treason and violent conspiracy in the infamous Rivonia Trial; where raiding police had discovered large quantities of military weapons at the headquarters of Umkhonto we Sizwe. In Mandela’s speech, ‘I am Prepared to Die’, he admitted to some of the charges and attracted international attention and acclaim. On 12 June 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment at Robben Island Prison off Cape Town.
The South African government periodically made conditional offers of freedom to Mandela. He was asked to recognize the independent status of the Transkei Bantustan and agree to reside there. He was also asked to renounce the use of violence. Mandela rejected both offers on the premise that only free men were able to engage in such negotiations and, as a prisoner, he was not a free man.
After almost 26 years, on February 11,1990, Mandela was released from prison under South Africa’s President de Klerk. Shortly after his release, Mandela was nominated deputy president of the ANC; he became president of the party in July 1991. Mandela led the ANC in negotiations with de Klerk to end apartheid and bring about a peaceful transition to multiracial democracy in South Africa. In 1993 Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993 for ending the apartheid. And in 1994, Mandela became the first Black president of South Africa where he served until 1997. During his presidency he established in 1995 the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission (TRC), which investigated human rights violations under apartheid; introduced housing, education, and economic development initiatives designed to improve the living standards of the country’s Black population; and in 1996 he oversaw the enactment of a new democratic constitution.
Nelson Mandela, against all odds, achieved his dream for equality for all South Africans. He was unyielding in his determination to free his people from apartheid and this has made him one of the most inspiring freedom fighters in history.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” —Nelson Mandela