Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
OM, CC, AC, QC : (born July
18, 1918) was the first President of South Africa to be elected in
fully-representative democratic elections. Before his presidency he was a
prominent anti-apartheid activist who, while imprisoned for 27 years, was
involved in the planning of underground armed resistance activities. The armed
struggle was, for Mandela, a necessary last resort; he had remained steadfastly
committed to non-violence.
Through his 27-year imprisonment, much of it spent in
a cell on Robben Island, Mandela became the most widely-known figure in the
struggle against South African apartheid. Although the apartheid regime and
nations sympathetic to it considered him and the ANC to be communists and
terrorists, the armed struggle was an integral part of the overall campaign
against apartheid. The switch in policy to that of reconciliation, which Mandela
pursued upon his release in 1990, facilitated a peaceful transition to
fully-representative democracy in South Africa.
Having received over a hundred awards over four decades, Mandela is currently
a celebrated elder statesman who continues to voice his opinion on topical
issues. In South Africa he is often known as Madiba, an honorary title
adopted by elders of Mandela's clan. The title has come to be synonymous with
Nelson Mandela. Many South Africans also refer to him reverently as 'mkhulu'
Nelson Mandela Interview
Mandela was born to a Thembu family in the small village of Mvezo in the
Mthatha district, capital of the Transkeian Territories of the Cape Province of
the Union of South Africa. Mandela's father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, was a
councillor to the Thembu king (a position he was groomed for from his birth and
which Mandela was also destined to inherit). Mandela's father was instrumental
in the ascension to the Thembu throne of Jongintaba Dalindyebo, who would later
return this favour by informally adopting Mandela upon Gadla's death. In total,
Mandela's father had four wives, with whom he fathered a total of thirteen
children (four boys and nine girls). Mandela was born to Gadla's third wife
('third' by a complex royal ranking system), Nosekeni Fanny in whose umzi
or homestead Mandela spent much of his childhood.
At seven years of age, Rolihlahla Mandela became the first member of his
family to attend a school, where he was given the name "Nelson", after the
British admiral Horatio Nelson, by a Methodist teacher. His father died of
tuberculosis when Rolihlahla was nine, and the Regent, Jongintaba, became his
guardian. Mandela attended a Wesleyan mission school next door to the palace of
the regent. Following Thembu custom, he was initiated at age sixteen, and
attended Clarkebury Boarding Institute, learning about Western culture. He
completed his Junior Certificate in two years, instead of the usual three.
At age nineteen, in 1937, Mandela moved to Healdtown, the Wesleyan college in
Fort Beaufort, which most Thembu royalty attended, and took an interest in
boxing and running. After matriculating, he started to study for a B.A. at the
Fort Hare University, where he met Oliver Tambo, and the two became lifelong
friends and colleagues.
At the end of his first year, he became involved in a boycott of the
Students' Representative Council against the university policies, and was asked
to leave Fort Hare. Shortly after this, Jongintaba announced to Mandela and
Justice (the Regent's own son and heir to the throne) that he had arranged
marriages for both of them. Both young men were displeased by this and rather
than marry, they elected to flee the comforts of the Regent's estate to the only
place they could: Johannesburg. Upon his arrival in Johannesburg, Mandela
initially found employment as a guard at a mine. However, this was quickly
terminated after the employer learned that Mandela was the Regent's runaway
adopted son. He then managed to find work as an articled clerk at a law firm
thanks to connections with his friend and fellow lawyer Walter Sisulu. While
working, he completed his degree at the University of South Africa (UNISA) via
correspondence, after which he started with his law studies at the University of
Witwatersrand. During this time Mandela lived in a township called Alexandra.
After the 1948 election victory of the Afrikaner-dominated National Party
with its apartheid policy of racial segregation, Mandela was prominent in the
ANC's 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1955 Congress of the People, whose adoption
of the Freedom Charter provided the fundamental program of the anti-apartheid
cause. During this time, Mandela and fellow lawyer Oliver Tambo operated the law
firm of Mandela and Tambo, providing free or low-cost legal counsel to many
blacks who would otherwise have been without legal representation.
Initially committed to non-violent mass struggle, Mandela was arrested with
150 others on 5 December 1956, and charged with treason. The marathon Treason
Trial of 1956–61 followed, and all were acquitted. From 1952–59 the ANC
experienced disruption as a new class of Black activists (Africanists) emerged
in the townships demanding more drastic steps against the National Party regime.
The ANC leadership of Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu felt not
only that events were moving too fast, but also that their leadership was being
challenged. They consequently bolstered their position by alliances with small
White, Coloured and Indian political parties in an attempt to appear to have a
wider appeal than the Africanists. The 1955 Freedom Charter Kliptown Conference
was ridiculed by the Africanists for allowing the 100,000-strong ANC to be
relegated to a single vote in a Congress alliance, in which four
secretary-generals of the five participating parties were members of the
secretly reconstituted South African Communist Party (SACP), the most slavish of
all communist parties to the Moscow line.
In 1959, the ANC lost its most militant support when most of the Africanists,
with financial support from Ghana and significant political support from the
Transvaal-based Basotho, broke away to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC)
under Robert Sobukwe and Potlako Leballo. Following the massacre of PAC
supporters at Sharpeville, in March 1960, and the subsequent banning of PAC and
ANC, the ANC/SACP followed the African Resistance Movement (renegade liberals)
and PAC into armed resistance. Luthuli, criticised for inertia, was
peripheralised, and the ANC/SACP used the All-In African Conference of 1961,
where all parties met to decide a joint strategy, for Mandela to issue a
dramatic call to arms, announcing the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe, modeled on
the Jewish guerrilla movement, Irgun, and commanded by Mandela with SACP Jewish
activists Denis Goldberg, Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein, and Harold Wolpe.
Mandela then left the country secretly and met African leaders in Algeria and
elsewhere. Startled to discover the depth of support for the PAC and the
widespread belief that the ANC was a small Xhosa tribal association manipulated
by White communists, Mandela returned to South Africa determined to reassert the
African nationalist element in the Congress Alliance. It is widely suspected
that a heated discussion with the communist leaders over this issue led to his
subsequent betrayal and arrest near Howick. Mandela glossed over these events in
his autobiography but at least one prominent SACP activist associated with him
at that time was cold-shouldered on his return to South Africa
View of Cape
Town and Robben Island from Table Mountain where Nelson Mandela
Arrest and imprisonment
In 1961, he became the leader of the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe
(translated as Spear of the Nation, also abbreviated MK), which he
co-founded. He co-ordinated a sabotage campaign against military and government
targets, and made plans for a possible guerrilla war if sabotage failed to end
apartheid. A few decades later, MK did indeed wage a guerrilla war against the
regime, especially during the 1980s. Mandela also raised funds for MK abroad,
and arranged for paramilitary training, visiting various African governments.
On 5 August 1962, he was arrested after living on the run for seventeen
months and was imprisoned in the Johannesburg Fort. William Blum, a former U.S.
State Department employee, says that the CIA tipped off the police as to
Mandela's whereabouts. Three days later, the charges of leading workers to
strike in 1961 and leaving the country illegally were read to him during a court
appearance. On 25 October 1962, Mandela was sentenced to five years in prison.
Two years later on 11 June 1964, a verdict had been reached concerning his
previous engagement in the African National Congress (ANC).
While Mandela was in prison, police arrested prominent ANC leaders on 11 July
1963, at Liliesleaf Farm, Rivonia, north of Johannesburg. Mandela was brought
in, and at the Rivonia Trial, Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu, Govan
Mbeki, Andrew Mlangeni, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Walter Mkwayi (who
escaped during trial), Arthur Goldreich (who escaped from prison before trial),
Denis Goldberg and Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein were charged by Percy Yutar with the
capital crimes of sabotage and crimes equivalent to treason, but which were
easier for the government to prove.
In his statement from the dock at the opening of the defence case in the
trial on 20 April 1964 at Pretoria Supreme Court, Mandela laid out the clarity
of reasoning in the ANC's choice to use violence as a tactic. His statement
revealed how the ANC had used peaceful means to resist apartheid for years until
the Sharpeville Massacre. That event coupled with the referendum establishing
the Republic of South Africa and the declaration of a state of emergency along
with the banning of the ANC made it clear that their only choice was to resist
through acts of sabotage. Doing otherwise would have been tantamount to
unconditional surrender. Mandela went on to explain how they developed the
Manifesto of Umkhonto on 16 December 1961 intent on exposing the failure of the
National Party's policies after the economy would be threatened by foreigners'
unwillingness to risk investing in the country. He closed his statement with
- During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the 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 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.
Bram Fischer, Vernon Berrange, Joel Joffe, Arthur Chaskalson and George Bizos
were part of the defence team that represented the accused. Harold Hanson was
brought in at the end of the case to plead mitigation. All except Rusty
Bernstein were found guilty, but they escaped the gallows and were sentenced to
life imprisonment on 12 June 1964. Charges included involvement in planning
armed action, in particular four charges of sabotage, which Mandela admitted to,
and a conspiracy to help other countries invade South Africa, which Mandela
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island where he was destined to
remain for the next eighteen of his twenty-seven years in prison. It was there
he wrote the bulk of his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. However, Mandela
did not reveal anything about the alleged complicity of Frederik de Klerk in the
violence of the eighties and nineties, or the role of his ex-wife Winnie Mandela
in that bloodshed. However, he later co-operated with his friend the journalist
Anthony Sampson who discussed those issues in Mandela: The Authorised Biography.
While in prison, Mandela was able to maintain contact with the ANC, which
published a statement from him on 10 June 1980, reading in part:
- Unite! Mobilize! Fight on! Between the anvil of united mass action and
the hammer of the armed struggle we shall crush apartheid!
Refusing an offer of conditional release in return for renouncing armed
struggle in February 1985, Mandela remained in prison until sustained ANC and
international campaigning with the resounding slogan Free Nelson Mandela!
culminated in his release in February 1990. State President Frederik de Klerk
simultaneously ordered Mandela's release, and the ending of the ban on the ANC.
On the day of his release, 11 February 1990, Mandela made a speech to the
nation. While declaring his commitment to peace and reconciliation with the
country's white minority, he made it clear that the ANC's armed struggle was not
- "Our resort to the armed struggle in 1960 with the formation of the
military wing of the ANC (Umkhonto we Sizwe) was a purely defensive action
against the violence of apartheid. The factors which necessitated the armed
struggle still exist today. We have no option but to continue. We express the
hope that a climate conducive to a negotiated settlement would be created soon,
so that there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle."
But he also said his main focus was to bring peace to the black majority and
give them the right to vote in both national and local elections.
ANC presidency and presidency of South Africa
South Africa's first democratic elections in which full enfranchisement was
granted were held on 27 April 1994. The ANC won the majority in the election,
and Mandela, as leader of the ANC, was inaugurated as the country's first black
State President, with the National party's de Klerk as his deputy president in
the Government of National Unity.
As President from May 1994 until June 1999, Mandela presided over the
transition from minority rule and apartheid, winning international respect for
his advocacy of national and international reconciliation.
However, his administration attracted some criticism, particularly when South
Africa invaded Lesotho in September 1998 while he was still President.
Nelson Mandela encouraged non-white South Africans to get behind the
previously hated South African national rugby union team as South Africa hosted
the 1995 Rugby World Cup. After the Springboks won an epic final over New
Zealand, Nelson Mandela wearing a Springbok shirt presented the trophy to
captain Francois Pienaar, an Afrikaner. This was widely seen as a major step in
the reconciliation of white and black South Africans.
Certain interest groups were also disappointed with the social achievements
of his term of office, particularly the government's ineffectiveness in stemming
the AIDS crisis.
After his retirement, Mandela admitted that he may have failed his country by
not paying more attention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He has taken many
opportunities since to highlight this South African tragedy.
President Mandela took a particular interest in helping to resolve the
long-running dispute between Libya on the one hand, and the United States and
Britain on the other, over bringing to trial the two Libyans who were accused of
sabotaging Pan Am Flight 103 on 21 December 1988 with the loss of 270 lives. In
November 1994, Mandela offered South Africa as a neutral venue for the Pan Am
Flight 103 bombing trial but the offer was rejected by British Prime Minister
John Major. A further three years elapsed until Mandela's offer was repeated to
Major's successor, Tony Blair, when the president visited London in July 1997.
Later the same year, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at
Edinburgh in October 1997, Mandela warned: "No one nation should be complainant,
prosecutor and judge." A compromise solution was then agreed for a trial to be
held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands, governed by Scots law, and President
Mandela began negotiations with Colonel Gaddafi for the handover of the two
accused (Megrahi and Fhimah) in April 1999.
At the end of their nine-month trial, the verdict was announced on 31 January
2001. Fhimah was acquitted but Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to 27 years
in a Scottish jail. Megrahi's appeal was turned down in March 2002, and former
president Mandela went to visit him in Barlinnie prison on 10 June 2002.
"Megrahi is all alone," Mandela told a packed press conference in the prison's
visitors room. "He has nobody he can talk to. It is psychological persecution
that a man must stay for the length of his long sentence all alone." Mandela
added: "It would be fair if he were transferred to a Muslim country — and there
are Muslim countries which are trusted by the west. It will make it easier for
his family to visit him if he is in a place like the kingdom of Morocco, Tunisia
or Egypt." Megrahi was subsequently moved to Greenock jail and is no longer in
solitary confinement. His case is currently being reviewed by the Scottish
Criminal Cases Review Commission, which is expected to rule that Megrahi's case
should be referred back to the Scottish High Court of Justiciary for a fresh
Mandela has been married three times. His first marriage was to Evelyn Ntoko
Mase who, like Mandela, was also from what later became the Transkei area of
South Africa; although they actually met in Johannesburg. The couple had three
children, educated at the Waterford Kamhlaba but they broke up in 1957 after 13
years, divorcing under the multiple strains of his constant absences, devotion
to revolutionary agitation, and the fact she was a Jehovah's Witness, so she
pursued a purely neutral position to political struggle and politics generally
in reliance on her faith (viz., Jehovah's Witnesses believe their sole political
loyalty is owed to God and His Kingdom yet to come, so they are pacificists and
non-participants in all kinds of political affairs).
Mandela's second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, also came from the Transkei
area, although they, too, met in Johannesburg, where she was the city's first
black social worker. Later, Winnie would be deeply torn by family discord which
mirrored the country's political strife: while her husband was serving a life
sentence on the Robben Island prison for terrorism and treason, her father
became the agriculture minister in the Transkei. The marriage ended in
separation (April 1992) and divorce (March 1996), fuelled by political
On his 80th birthday, he married Graça Machel, widow of Samora Machel, the
former Mozambican president and ANC ally killed in an air crash 12 years
After his retirement as President in 1999, Mandela went on to become an
advocate for a variety of social and human rights organizations. He received
many foreign honours, including the Order of Merit and the Order of St. John
from Queen Elizabeth II and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W.
As an example of his popular acclaim, in his tour of Canada in 1998, he
included a speaking engagement in SkyDome in the city of Toronto where he spoke
to 45,000 school children who greeted him with intense adulation. In 2001, he
was the first living person to be made an honorary Canadian citizen (the only
previous recipient, Raoul Wallenberg, was awarded honorary citizenship
posthumously). Although the government of Canada had hoped that the vote to make
Mandela a citizen would be unanimous, this was not possible due to Canadian
Alliance MP Rob Anders who stood up in the Canadian House of Commons and claimed
Mandela was a former "communist and a terrorist".  While in Canada, he was
also made an honorary Companion of the Order of Canada, one of the few
foreigners to receive Canada's highest honour.
In summer 2001, Mandela was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer. He was
treated with a seven week course of radiation treatment.
In 2003, Mandela attacked the foreign policy of the George W. Bush
administration in a number of speeches, insinuating President Bush may have been
motivated by racism in not following the UN and its secretary-general Kofi Annan
on the issue of the War in Iraq. "Is it because the secretary-general of the
United Nations is now a black man? They never did that when secretary-generals
were white," Mandela said. The comments caused a rare moment of controversy
and criticism for Mandela, even among some supporters.
Later that same year, he lent his support to the 46664 AIDS fundraising
campaign, named after his prison number.
In June 2004, at age 85, Mandela announced that he would be retiring from
public life. His health had been declining, and he wanted to enjoy more time
with his family. He has made an exception, however, for his commitment to the
fight against AIDS. In July 2004, he flew to Bangkok to speak at the XV
International AIDS Conference. His son, Makgatho Mandela, died of AIDS on 6
Mandela has also expressed his support for the international Make Poverty
History movement of which the ONE Campaign is a part.
On 23 July 2004, the city of Johannesburg bestowed its highest honour on
Mandela by granting him the freedom of the city at a ceremony in Orlando,
Today, Mandela remains a key figure to strong educational organisations that
hold his ideals strongly of international understanding and peace, like the
United World Colleges and the Round Square. For the IOC Celebrate Humanity
Campaign for 2006 Winter Olympics Mandela appears in a spot.
Orders and decorations
- Nobel Peace Prize (1993)
- Honorary Companion of The Order of Canada
- Order of St. John
- Presidential Medal of Freedom
- Lenin Peace Prize (1990)
- Bharat Ratna (1990)
- Order of Merit (1995)
- Freedom of the City of Johannesburg (2004)
- Isithwalandwe (1992)
- In the final scene of the 1992 American film Malcolm X, Mandela --
recently released after 27 years of political imprisonment -- appears as a
schoolteacher in a classroom in Soweto. He recites a portion of one of Malcolm
X's most famous speeches, including the following sentence: "We declare our
right on this earth to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be
given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day,
which we intend to bring into existence . . . ." The final phrase of that
sentence is "by any means necessary." Mandela informed director Spike Lee that
he could not utter this phrase on camera, stating that the apartheid government
would somehow use it against him if he did. Lee understandingly obliged, and the
final seconds of the film feature black-and-white footage of the real Malcolm X
speaking the words "by any means necessary".
- Queen and Paul Rodgers performed a song titled "Say It's Not True" in their
concert Return Of The Champions, which was written for Nelson Mandela's 46664
campaign. It was written by Roger Taylor, the Queen drummer.
- The Famous Ska band The Specials, best known for their Two-Tone records
promoting racial unity in England recorded a song "Free Nelson Mandela."
- Mandela is known for his fondness of Batik textiles. He is often seen
wearing Batik, even on formal occasions. Shirts in this style are fondly known
as "Madiba shirts" in South Africa.
- In 2003, Mandela's death was incorrectly announced by CNN when his
pre-written obituary (along with those of several other famous figures) was
inadvertently published on CNN's web site due to a lapse in password protection.
- The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, wants a statue of Nelson Mandela
installed on the north terrace of Trafalgar Square, although thus far he has run
- Johnny Clegg dedicated a song to Mandela entitled Asimbonanga (Mandela),
in which fellow anti-apartheid activists Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge, and Neil
Aggett are also recognised.
- Mandela has become a cultural icon of freedom and equality comparable with
Mohandas Gandhi to many around the world.
- Goodbye Bafana, a feature film that focuses on Mandela's life, is in
production. It is due to be released in 2006.
- As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Dick Cheney voted against
a congressional resolution calling for Mandela's release from prison. Years
later, Mandela would call Cheney a "dinosaur."
- Mandela spoke in the Olympics "Celebrate Humanity" campaign with the words:
For seventeen days, they are roommates. For seventeen days, they
are soulmates. And for twenty-two seconds, they are competitors.
Seventeen days as equals. Twenty-two seconds as adversaries. What a
wonderful world that would be. That's the hope I see in the Olympic
- Mandela was made an honorary member of Manchester United as the club toured
South Africa in the Summer of 2006.
|President of South