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Nelson Mandela; Africa’s Greatest Leader

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, statesman, and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first black head of state and the first elected in a representative democratic elections. His government was committed to eradicating the legacy of apartheid by addressing institutionalized racism and promoting racial reconciliation.

Ideologically, he was an African nationalist and socialist. He served as president of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1991 to 1997.

Mandela was a Xhosa speaker and was born into the Thembu royal family in Mvezo, Union of South Africa. Before working as a lawyer in Johannesburg, he studied law at Fort Hare University and Witwatersrand University. There, he participated in anti-colonial and African nationalist politics, joining the ANC in 1943, and co-founded the Youth League in 1944. He was appointed president of the Transvaal branch of the ANC and gained fame for his participation in the 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1955 People’s Congress. He was arrested many times for inciting activities and was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the Treason Trial in 1956. Under the influence of Marxism, he secretly joined the banned South African Communist Party (SACP). Despite his initial commitment to non-violent protests, he co-founded the radical Umkhonto we Sizwe with SACP in 1961 and led a sabotage campaign against the government. He was arrested and imprisoned in 1962 and subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the state after the Rivonia Trail.

Mandela served 27 years in prison, spilt between Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison, and Victor Verster Prison. In the face of increasing national and international pressure and fear of ethnic civil war, President F. De Klerk released him in 1990.

Mandela and De Klerk led the negotiations to end apartheid. The result was the multi-ethnic elections of 1994. Mandela led the ANC to victory and became president. Leading a broad coalition, the government enacted a new constitution, Mandela emphasized reconciliation among the country’s ethnic groups and established a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate past human rights violations.

Economically, although he had his own socialist beliefs, his government still retained the liberal framework of its predecessor and also took steps to promote land reform, eradicate poverty and expand health services. At the international level, Mandela served as the mediator in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial and served as the General Secretary of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999. He rejected a re-election into the office of the President and was succeeded by his deputy Thabo Mbeki.

Mandela became an elder politician and worked to fight poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Charitable Foundation.

Mandela was a controversial figure for most of his life. Although right-wing critics condemned him as a communist terrorist, and far-left critics thought he was too eager to negotiate and reconcile with apartheid supporters, his radicalism gained international recognition. He is widely regarded as a symbol of democracy and social justice and has won more than 250 awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize. He is highly respected in South Africa, where he’s referred to by his Thembu clan, Madiba and is known as the “Father of the Nation”.

His Early Life

Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in the town of Mvezo in Umtata, which was part of the Cape Province of South Africa at the time. Given the aforename Rolihlahla, a term in the Xhosa language, colloquially meaning “troublemaker”, in his later years, he was known by his clan name, Madiba. His patrilineal great-grandfather, Ngubengcuka, was the king of the Thembu people in the Transkeian region of Eastern Cape Province in modern South Africa. One of Ngubengcuka’s sons, Mandela, was Nelson’s grandfather and the source of his last name. Since Mandela was the son of the wife of King Ixhiba’s clan, a so-called “left-Hand House”, the descendants of his branch of royal cadets belonged to the Morgan family and were not eligible to inherit the throne, but were admitted as hereditary royal advisers.

Nelson Mandela’s father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa Mandela (1880-1928) was a member of the local chief and council to the monarch. He was appointed to the post in 1915 after his predecessor was accused of corruption by a white magistrate in power. In 1926, Gadla was also fired for corruption, but Nelson was told that his father had lost his job for ignoring the magistrate’s unreasonable request.

As a believer in the god Qamata, Gadla was a polygamous man with four wives, four sons and nine daughters, who live in different villages. Nelson’s mother is Gadla’s third wife, Nosekeni Fanny. She is the daughter of the right-handed family Nkedama and a member of the amaMpemvu family of Xhosa.

Mandela later stated that his early life was dominated by traditional Thembu customs and taboos. He grew up with his two sisters in his mother’s kraal in Qunu Village, where he tended herbs like a cowboy and spent a lot of time outdoors with other boys. His parents were illiterate, but because he was a devout Christian, his mother sent him to the local Methodist school when he was about seven years old. After being baptized as a Methodist, his teacher gave Mandela the English nickname “Nelson”. When Mandela was about nine years old, his father came to Qunu, where he died of an undiagnosed disease, which Mandela believed was a lung disease. Feeling “cut adrift”, he later said that he inherited his father’s “proud rebellion” and “stubborn sense of justice.”

Mandela’s mother took him to the “Great Place” palace in Mqhekezweni, where he was entrusted to the custody of Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the regent of Thembu. Although he did not see his mother again for many years, Mandela felt that Jongintaba and his wife Noengland treated him as their son, raising him with their son Justice and daughter Nomafu. Since Mandela attended church services with his mentor every Sunday, Christianity became an important part of his life. He attended the Methodist Mission School next to the palace, where he studied English, Xhosa, history, and geography. He developed a passion for African history, listened to the stories told by the elderly visitors to the palace, and was influenced by the anti-imperialist comments made by visiting chief Joyi. However, at the time he believed that European settlers were not oppressors, but benefactors who brought education and other benefits to southern Africa. At the age of 16, he, Justice and several other boys went to Tyhalarha to receive the ulwaluko circumcision ceremony, symbolizing their transformation from boys to men; later he was named Dalibunga.

On August 5, 1962, the police captured Mandela and Cecil Williams, his fellow activist near Howick. Many MK members suspected that the authorities had gotten a fair idea of Mandela’s whereabouts, although Mandela himself did not believe in those ideas. In the following years, former US diplomat Donald Rickard revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency was concerned about Mandela’s connection to the Communist Party and had notified South African police of his location. Mandela was detained at the Marshall Square Prison in Johannesburg on charges of inciting workers to strike and leaving the country without permission.

As Slovo’s legal representative, Mandela intended to use the trial to demonstrate the African National Congress’s “moral opposition to racism,” as supporters demonstrate outside the courtroom.

When he moved to Pretoria, where Winnie could visit him, he began studies by correspondence, studying for a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) at the International Program at the University of London. His hearing began in October, but he wore traditional kaross, refused to call witnesses and turned his mitigating charges into a political speech, thereby interrupting the proceedings. Convicted and sentenced to five years in prison; as he left the court, supporters chanted “Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika”.

On July 11, 1963, the police raided the Liliesleaf farm, arrested the people they found there, and discovered documents documenting MK’s activities, some of which mentioned Mandela. The trial of Rivonia began in the Supreme Court of Pretoria in October. Mandela and his comrades were indicted on four counts of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government; his chief prosecutor was Percy Yutar. Judge Quartus de Wet quickly dismissed the prosecution’s case on the grounds of insufficient evidence, but Yutar reformulated the charges. From December 1963 to February 1964, he filed a new case, summoned 173 witnesses, and brought thousands of documents and photos for the trial.

Although four of the accused denied any connection to MK, Mandela and the other five accused admitted sabotage, but denied having agreed to launch a guerrilla war against the government. They used the trial to highlight his political mission; during the defence’s proceedings, Mandela delivered his three-hour “I Am Prepared To Die” speech. Despite official censorship, the speech inspired by Castro’s “History Will Absolve Me,” was widely publicized in the media.

The trial has received international attention; the United Nations and the World Peace Commission called for the release of the accused, and the University of London Union voted to elect Mandela as its president.

On June 12, 1964, Justice De Wet ruled that Mandela and his two co-convicts were guilty of all four counts; although the prosecution requested the death penalty, the judge sentenced them to life imprisonment.

In 1964, Mandela and his accomplices were transferred from Pretoria to Robben Island Prison, where they remained for 18 years. In Area B, separated from non-political prisoners, Mandela was incarcerated in a 2.4 m by 2.1 m wet concrete cell, with a straw mat on top. After being verbally and physically harassed by several white prison guards, the Rivonia prisoner broke stones into gravel every day until he was reassigned to work in a lime quarry in January 1965.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela smiles for photographers after a meeting with actor Tim Robbins at Mandela’s home in Johannesburg September 22, 2005. Robbins is currently in South Africa filming. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings – RTRP1WF

Initially, Mandela was prohibited from wearing sunglasses and the glare of lime permanently damaged his eyesight. At night, he worked on his LLB degree from the University of London through a correspondence course with Oxford University Wolsey Hall, but newspapers were banned and he was repeatedly held in solitary confinement for possessing smuggled news clippings. He was initially classified as the lowest D-level inmate, which meant that he was allowed one visit and one letter every six months, although all mail was strictly censored.

Political prisoners took part in labor and hunger strikes – Mandela believes the latter to be largely ineffective – to improve prison conditions, seeing them as a microcosm of the fight against apartheid. The ANC prisoners selected him as their four-person “higher organ” along with Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Raymond Mhlaba. He also joined a group that represented all of Ulundi’s political prisoners (including Eddie Daniels). Through the group and PAC and Yu Chi Chan club members he started “Roben Island University” where inmates gave speeches about their professional fields, and he and his colleagues debated social and political issues.

Although he attended Christian Sunday services, Mandela studied Islam. He also studied Afrikaans, hoping to establish mutual respect with the warders and turn them to his mission. Several official visitors met with Mandela, the most famous of which was Helen Suzman, a Liberal MP of the Progressive Party, who supported Mandela’s mission outside prison. In September 1970, he met with Denis Healy, a British Labour Party politician. In December 1974, South African Attorney General Jimmy Kruger visited him, but he and Mandela did not get along well. His mother visited him in 1968 and died shortly afterwards, and his eldest son Thembi died in a car accident the following year. Mandela was banned from attending any funerals. His wife rarely saw him and was often imprisoned for political activities. His daughters first visited him in December 1975. Winnie was released from prison in 1977, but was forcibly placed in Brandfort and was never able to see him.

Since 1967, prison conditions improved. Black prisoners were given pants instead of shorts, allowed to play, and improved their food standards. In 1969, Gordon Bruce formulated Mandela’s escape plan, but it was abandoned after an agent infiltrated the conspiracy by an agent of the South African Bureau of State Security (BOSS), who expected to see Mandela shot dead during his escape. In 1970, Commander Piet Badenhorst became commander. Mandela seeing an increase in the physical and psychological abuse of prisoners and complained to the visiting judges who Badenhorst had reassigned. He was replaced by Commander Willie Willemse, who had established a partnership with Mandela and was eager to raise the standards of the prison.

Mandela is widely regarded as a charismatic leader. The biographer Mary Benson described him as “a born mass leader who could not help magnetizing people.” He paid great attention to his image, and throughout his life he always looked for good quality clothes, with many critics believing that he behaved in a regal manner. His aristocratic ancestry has been repeatedly emphasized by his supporters, thus contributing to his “charming power”. While living in Johannesburg in the 1950s, he cultivated the image of an “African gentleman”, possessing the “ironed clothes, correct behavior, and restrained public discourse” associated with this position. In doing so, Lodge believed that Mandela became “one of the earliest politicians in the media… embodying a kind of charm and style that visually projected a brave new world of modernity and freedom in Africa. ” As you all know, Mandela changes his clothes several times a day. After assuming the presidency, he did so in brightly colored Batik shirts that together they were called “Madiba shirts”.

For the political scientists Betty Glad and Robert Blandon, Mandela was an “extraordinarily intelligent, cunning and loyal leader.” His official biographer, Anthony Sampson, commented that he is a “master of imagery and performance,” good at appearing in news photos and producing sound clips. His public speeches are presented in a formal, forceful manner, and often contain clichés. He generally spoke slowly and choose his words carefully. Although he is not considered a great orator, his speech conveyed “his personal commitment, charm and humor.”

Mandela was a private person who often hid his emotions and rarely talks to others. In private, he led a simple life, refused to drink or smoke, and even made his own bed when he was president. He is known for his playful sense of humor, stubbornness and loyalty, and sometimes grumpy. He’s generally friendly and welcoming, and seems laid-back when talking to everyone including his opponents. He claims to be pro-British, claiming to live “the trap of British style and manners.” He was always courteous, attentive to everyone regardless of age or status, and often talks with children or servants. He was known for being able to find common ground in very different communities. In his later life, he always looked for the best person, and even defended political opponents from his allies, who sometimes thought he trusted others too much. He liked Indian cuisine and had a lifelong interest in archeology and boxing.

Nelson Mandela’s Legacy Lives On

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