Last modified on June 7, 2021, at 02:30

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

President of South Africa
In office
May 10, 1994 – June 10, 1999
Preceded by F. W. de Klerk
Succeeded by Thabo Mbeki

Born July 19, 1918
Mvezo, South Africa
Died December 5, 2013 (aged 95)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Political party African National Congress
Spouse(s) Evelyn Ntoko Mase (1944–1957)
Winnie Madikizela (1958–1996)
Graça Machel (1998-)
Religion Methodism

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid leader and politician who served as President of South Africa from 1994-1999. For his life Mandela received more than 250 honors, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom (from George W. Bush), the Sakharov Prize, the Soviet Order of Lenin and the Bharat Ratna.

He belonged to the African National Congress, a political party from the center-left to the ultra-left Leninist, which he presided from 1991 to 1997, after its legalization in 1990. He was a member and was general secretary of the MPNA (Movement of Non-Aligned Countries) between 1998 and 2002. This was a coalition of countries that remained "neutral" in the Cold War. Nelson supported the Marxist Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro, and the values of and actions taken by the regime.[1] He also supported Muammar al-Gaddafi[2] and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.[3]

Early life

Mandela was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, to Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa,[4] a chief of the Thembu people, a subdivision of the Xhosa nation.[5] When his father died at nine Nelson was taken in as a ward to Jongintaba Dalindyebo.[6]


Mandela was sent to a Methodist[7] mission school for his primary education,[4] followed by time at Clarkebury Boarding Institute and Healdtown.[6] He began studying for a bachelor's degree at University College of Fort Hare, the only residential college for blacks in South Africa,[5] but, along with Oliver Tambo,[4] was expelled for joining a student protest.[6] Upon returning to his village, as retribution,[6] Mandela's family selected a bride for him and his cousin, Justice; the two fled the family - and the prospect of leadership in tribal government - for Johannesburg, South Africa.[4][5] There he worked in gold mines as a guard, but was fired when his superior discovered he was a runaway.[4][5] Mandela would complete his bachelor's degree at the University of South Africa in 1943 and return to Fort Hare for his graduation.[6]

Pre-imprisonment career

Work experience, early political activism

In Johannesburg, Mandela was introduced to Walter Sisulu, a real estate businessman and a prominent member of the African National Congress (ANC) - a black liberation party opposed the extreme segregation called apartheid;[4][5][8] Sisulu arranged for Mandela to be articled to a white attorney, Lazar Sidelsky, while Mandela studied law part-time at University of the Witwatersrand - though he would leave the school in 1948.[6][7] Mandela began to follow Anton Lembede; he, along with Mandela, Tambo and Sisulu organized the radical A.N.C. Youth League, alienating some white sympathizers with their strong black national rhetoric.[4][5][7] The Youth League was also critical of the "old guard" leadership of the ANC.[4]

“I was angry at the white man, not at racism ... While I was not prepared to hurl the white man into the sea, I would have been perfectly happy if he climbed aboard his steamships and left the continent of his own volition.”
— Nelson Mandela[5]

At this time, Mandela fell strongly onto the side of Africanism is the liberation debate between Africanism and nonracialism in liberation theology, though his eventual embrace of nonracialism would define his later life and career.[5] The ANC Youth League was also fiercely anti-communist; Mandela would break up Communist Party meetings - regarding Communism as foreign and non-Afircan and believing that blacks should liberate themselves.[5][7] This philosophy changed with the victory of the Afrikaner National Party in 1948 in the all-white elections; the National Party had run on a platform of apartheid and strong anti-communism.[7] The elections sparked the radicalization of the ANC[9] - in 1949 the Youth League's tactics of boycott, strike, civil disobedience and non-co-operation were adopted as official ANC policy, and older members were purged from leadership positions.[4] Mandela would assume leadership positions within the party - including President of the Youth League and National Volunteer-in-Chief of the ANC.[4]

In 1952, the ANC launched its first passive resistance - the Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws.[4][7] The Defiance Campaign was suppressed with legislation lead by the National Party; protests were met with arrests - including that of Mandela's in 1956 on charges of treason (one of 156 ANC leaders to be arrested that year).[7] The court found that Mandela had consistently advised his adherers to not resort to violence, but he was found guilty of contravening the Suppression of Communism Act and given a suspended prison sentence.[4] Mandela was also confined to Johannesburg for six months and prohibited from attending gatherings; during this time, Mandela, despite not completing his law degree, and Tambo set up the first black law partnership in South Africa;[5] the firm helped black clients with their political and other legal difficulties.[7]

In 1953, Mandela created the M-plan (named after him) - a contingency plan in case the ANC - like the Communist Party - was declared illegal. The M-plan detailed how the party could run underground, communicating with members without resorting to public meetings.[4] Throughout the fifties Mandela would be consistently banned, arrested and imprisoned.[4] In 1960 - the more radical Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) broke away from the ANC; their tactics- though still peaceful - were more aggressive and were met with violence.[4][7] On March 21, 1961 police killed 69 peaceful protestors in what became known as the Sharpeville Massacre; after this massacre both parties were banned.[4][5][7]

He also had been a Communist, and even went as far as to give a speech on how to be a good communist.[10] In addition, he also was a senior member of the South African Communist Party by his arrest in 1962.[11] In 1990 at Johannesburg, he was also photographed with his then-wife Winnie (who was infamous for her method of execution known as necklacing, which involved putting a tire to a person's neck filled with gasoline and setting them on fire) as well as Stalinist member Joe Slovo during a South African Communist Party rally with the Soviet Star and Hammer and Sickle logos prominently displayed on a red background.[12]

Militarist leader

The Sharpeville Massacre sparked a turning point for Mandela - he became convinced that the ANC needed to adopt a separate military wing, called Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation; Mandela was made commander-in-chief.[5][7] There is also evidence that Mandela joined the South African Communist Party and a member the party's Central Committee (though he denied it through his life) - presumably for contacts.[5][13] The new, violent, methods of the ANC were to destroy power plants and communications systems; the goal was that these acts would limit overseas investment. Mandela was adamant that the group not kill, but by the end of its 20-year campaign 63 people had been killed and 483 injured; the group was declared a terrorist group by the white South African government and the United States.[14] Mandela left the country soon after the Spear of the Nation began its tactics, hoping to generate worldwide support and economic sanctions so that Pretoria might abandon apartheid.[7] In 1962, Mandela was arrested after 17 months in hiding, charged with incitement to strike and illegally leaving the country.[7] Mandela was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.[4][7]

“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 will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But my lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
— Nelson Mandela[5]

While serving, the South African police raided a farm near Rivonia - finding future plans of sabotage; Mandela and his colleagues were charged with organising sabotage and violent revolution as well as furthering the aims of communism; at his trial, Mandela declared his ideal of democracy in a four-hour speech - concluding, "It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."[7] Mandela acknowledged his crimes - that he was the commander of Spear of the Nation and that he had made alliances with Communists, but declared that he had turned to violence only when nonviolent means were foreclosed and likened his affiliation with Communists to Churchill's cooperation with Stalin against Hitler.[5] Nelson also commented on his political evolution from black nationalist to multiracialist.[5] In part due to overwhelming pressure from the international community - including a near-unanimous vote by the United Nations - the lives of the accused were spared; Mandela and his colleagues were sentenced to life in prison.[5] When President Botha offered to have him pardoned if he would renounce terrorism, he refused.[10]


Mandela became an elder statesman of the prison on Robben Island[9] - where there were frequent clashes with prisoners and guards, he seemed above the fray; he was also singled out for cruelties. He was denied permission to attend the funerals of his mother and oldest son, and his wife endured persecution after being exiled from Johannesburg.[5] Mandela and the prisoners initially turned down officers of release; he commented "Prisoners cannot enter into contracts - only free men can negotiate."[4] Mandela credited his time in prison with the cessation of his desire for vengeance, speaking of sympathetic white guards and National Party members who would attempt a dialogue.[5]

Pretoria began a more stringent crackdown on minority party activities - it detained 20,000 people without trial,[7] but the pressure from the international community was too great. Mandela ultimately decided to negotiate with the white government without telling his fellow inmates and party-members, saying, “My comrades did not have the advantages that I had of brushing shoulders with the V.I.P.’s who came here, the judges, the minister of justice, the commissioner of prisons, and I had come to overcome my own prejudice towards them ... So I decided to present my colleagues with a fait accompli.”[5]

In December 1988, as negotiations gathered momentum, and Mandela's health deteriorated (he had prostate surgery while in prison), he was moved to the Victor Verster Prison - where he could be better cared for and live in more comfortable conditions.[4][5] In February 1990, President Frederik Willem de Klerk legalized the ANC and shortly after released Mandela; two weeks later Mandela became the Deputy President of the ANC.[7]

Release and election

Negotiations between Mandela, the ANC and the ruling party continued until eventually free elections were agreed upon, in exchange for a share of power for opposition parties and a guarantee that whites would not be threatened with reprisals.[5] In the ensuing elections of April 1994, the ANC won 62% of the vote - ensuring that Mandela would be the next President of South Africa.[5][7]


Though elected leader, Mandela was frequently deferring to others in leadership. De Klerk and Thabo Mbeki - the latter selected by the ANC - were Mandela's deputy presidents, and privately he left most appointments and practical decisions to Mbeki, referring to himself as "head of state" rather than "head of government".[7] When De Klerk left the coalition, Mbeki was allowed more power - sometimes presiding over the cabinet.

Mandela was not as effective in elected office as he was revolutionary leader. Prior to his election - he sought the financial support of 20 industrialists to build up the ANC. When he took office, he allowed the industrialists to have unprecedented access to the executive - and favored his big donors over unions.[5] Mandela also made minimal progress towards the modest goals he had set on housing, education and jobs.[5] He failed to grab the lead at the dawn of the ensuing crisis of AIDS; refusing to acknowledge the unpopular subject at a time when contraceptives were considered taboo in South Africa.[7]

Still, Mandela continued to act as a unifier among races - as in 1995 when he shook the hand of Francois Pienaar - the Springbok rugby captain - significant due to rugby's strong association with Afrikaners - whose leaders strongly supported apartheid.[9][15]


Reaction to successor

Mandela rarely directly criticized his successor, Mbeki, but privately criticized his inability to take criticism and his conspiratorial view of the world.[5] When Mbeki publicly doubted the scientifically proven cause of AIDS, Mandela finally spoke out on the issue - citing the importance of condoms and contraceptives.[5]

Reaction to global affairs

Nelson Mandela with Muammar al-Gaddafi

Health problems and death

Mandela suffered from a lung infection. From December 2012 to April 2013 he remained in a hospital. He had a procedure to remove a gallstone.[16] On April 6, 2013 he left the hospital,[17] but returned again in June 2013.[18] Mandela was in a critical condition for a long time.[19]

On July 4, 2013, it was revealed that court documents indicated that Nelson Mandela was on life support and was being kept alive by a breathing machine and faced "impending death"; he was kept in the hospital from June 8, 2013[20] to December 5th, 2013, when he died.

Global reaction and funeral

George W. Bush and Barack Obama both spoke at Mandela's funeral - which was marred by a fake sign language interpreter, who was later admitted to a psychiatric hospital.[21]


  1. Speech by Nelson Mandela, July 26, 1991, in Cuba:
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 South Africa: Biography of Nelson Mandela (English). AllAfrica (12-06-2013). Retrieved on 12-10-2013.
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 5.16 5.17 5.18 5.19 5.20 5.21 5.22 5.23 5.24 5.25 5.26 Keller, Bill (December 5, 2013). Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s Liberator as Prisoner and President, Dies at 95 (English). The New York Times. Retrieved on 12-10-2013.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Biography (English). Nelson Mandela Foundation. Retrieved on 12-10-2013.
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 7.13 7.14 7.15 7.16 7.17 7.18 7.19 Sampson, Anthony. Nelson Mandela biography: A long walk to immortality - the life and times of Madiba (English). The Independent.
  8. Apartheid (English). History. A&E Television Networks, LLC. Retrieved on December 18, 2013.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Holman, Michael (December 7, 2013). Nelson Mandela: A life rich in drama, tragedy, triumph and reconciliation (English). The Telegraph. Retrieved on December 18, 2013.
  10. 10.0 10.1
  13. Marrian, Natasha (December 6, 2013). (English). Business Day Live.
  14. Laing, Aislinn (February 5, 2011). Nelson Mandela's Spear of the Nation: the ANC's armed resistance (English). The Telegraph. Retrieved on December 18, 2013.
  15. Muller, Antoinette (December 12, 2013). Mandela - Francois Pienaar’s tribute: short, simple, apt. Daily Maverick. Retrieved on December 18, 2013.
  16. Mandela remains hospitalized for lung infection, spokesman says (English). Associated Press. Fox News (March 31, 2013).
  17. Nelson Mandela discharged from the hospital, South Africa says (English). Associated Press. Fox News (April 6, 2013).
  18. Nelson Mandela remains in hospital with recurring lung infection (English). Associated Press. Fox News (June 9, 2013).
  19. South Africa: Nelson Mandela in critical condition (English). Associated Press. TownHall.
  20. Straziuso, Jason (July 4, 2013). Nelson Mandela on life support, court documents show. Associated Press. USA Today.
  21. Smith, Alexander (December 19, 2013). 'Fake' interpreter from Mandela event is admitted to psychiatric hospital: report (English). NBC News. NBC.