NELSON ROLIHLAHLA MANDELA

BORN: 1918
DIED: 2013
PRESIDENCY: 1991 – 1997

Mandela’s words, “The struggle is my life,” are not to be taken lightly. Nelson Mandela personifies struggle. He led the fight against apartheid with extraordinary vigour and resilience after spending nearly three decades of his life behind bars. He sacrificed his private life and his youth for his people, and remains South Africa’s best known and loved hero. Mandela has held numerous positions in the ANC: ANCYL secretary (1948); ANCYL president (1950); ANC Transvaal president (1952); deputy national president (1952) and ANC president (1991).

He was born in Qunu, near Mthatha on July 18, 1918. His father, Henry Mgadla Mandela, was chief councillor to Thembuland’s acting paramount chief David Dalindyebo. When his father died, Mandela became the chief’s ward and was groomed for the chieftainship.
Mandela matriculated at Healdtown Methodist Boarding School, thereafter, he enrolled for a BA degree at Fort Hare University. As an SRC member he participated in a student strike and was expelled, along with the late Oliver Tambo, in 1940. He completed his degree by correspondence from Johannesburg, did articles of clerkship and enrolled for an LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS).

In 1944, he helped found the ANC Youth League, whose Programme of Action was adopted by the ANC in 1949. Mandela was elected national volunteer-in-chief of the 1952 Defiance Campaign. He travelled the country organising resistance to discriminatory legislation. He was given a suspended sentence for his part in the campaign. Shortly afterwards, a banning order confined him to Johannesburg for six months. During this period he formulated the “M Plan”, in terms of which ANC branches were broken down into underground cells.

By 1952, Mandela and Tambo had opened the first black legal firm in the country, and Mandela was both Transvaal president of the ANC and deputy national president. A petition by the Transvaal Law Society to strike Mandela off the roll of attorneys was refused by the Supreme Court.

In the ‘fifties, after being forced through constant bannings to resign officially from the ANC, Mandela analysed the Bantustan policy as a political swindle. He predicted mass removals, political persecutions and police terror.

For the second half of the ‘fifties, he was one of the accused in the Treason Trial. With Duma Nokwe, he conducted the defence. When the ANC was banned after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, he was detained until 1961 when he went underground to lead a campaign for a new national convention. Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC, was born the same year. Under his leadership it launched a campaign of sabotage against government and economic installations.

In 1962, Mandela left the country for military training in Algeria and to arrange training for other MK members. On his return he was arrested for leaving the country illegally and for incitement to strike. He conducted his own defence. He was convicted and jailed for five years in November 1962. While serving his sentence, he was charged in the Rivonia trial with sabotage, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

A decade before being imprisoned, Mandela had spoken out against the introduction of Bantu Education, recommending that community activists “make every home, every shack or rickety structure a centre of learning”.

Robben Island, where he was imprisoned, became a centre for learning, and Mandela was a central figure in the organised political education classes. In prison, Mandela never compromised his political principles and was always a source of strength for the other prisoners.

It is significant that shortly after his release on Sunday February 11, 1990, Mandela and his delegation agreed to the suspension of armed struggle.

Mandela was inaugurated as the first democratically elected State President of South Africa on May 10, 1994 to June 1999.