A long walk through life

2008-07-17 00:00

NELSON Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, at Qunu, near Umtata, the son of Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Henry Mgadla Mandela, chief councillor to the paramount of the Thembu.

He was educated at University College of Fort Hare and the University of the Witwatersrand and qualified in law in 1942.

Together with Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, Mandela participated in the foundation of the African National Congress Youth League in 1944 and in 1948 he served as its national secretary.

In late 1950, Mandela became national president of the Youth League and in 1952 was appointed national “volunteer-in-chief” of the Defiance Campaign. He travelled around South Africa enlisting volunteers to break apartheid laws. The campaign officially opened on June 26, 1952, with Mandela and 51 others breaking curfew regulations.

In December 1952, Mandela and a number of others were arrested and charged under the Suppression of Communism Act. He was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment with hard labour, suspended for two years. He was also served with a banning order prohibiting him from attending gatherings for six months, or from leaving Johannesburg. For the next nine years, his banning orders were renewed.

In December 1956, Mandela was one of the 156 political activists arrested and charged with high treason. Four-and-a-half years later, on March 29, 1961, Justice Rumpff found the accused not guilty. As well as being an accused, Mandela played a legal role in the trial as the original defence lawyers withdrew during the 1960 state of emergency.

After the banning of the ANC in 1960, Mandela argued for the setting up of a military wing within the ANC. In June 1961, the ANC executive considered his proposal on the use of violent tactics and agreed that those members who wished to involve themselves in Mandela’s campaign would not be stopped from doing so. This led to the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Early in 1962, Mandela was smuggled across the border and, on January 11, made a surprise appearance at the Pan-African Freedom Movement Conference in Addis Ababa. His address to the conference, a few weeks after the first sabotage attacks by MK, explained the turn to violent action.

During this trip he received guerrilla training in Algeria before travelling to London, where he met leaders of British opposition parties.

He returned to South Africa in July and, on August 5 was caught near Howick. He was tried in Pretoria’s Old Synagogue and, in November 1962, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. He began his sentence in Pretoria Central Prison.

While he was in prison, police raided the headquarters of the ANC at Rivonia, arresting, among others, Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg and Lionel Bernstein.

Police found documents relating to the manufacture of explosives, Mandela’s diary of his African tour and copies of a draft memorandum — “Operations Mayibuye” — outlining a strategy of guerrilla struggle.

At the start of the Rivonia trial in October 1963, Mandela was brought from jail to join the other eight accused being tried for sabotage, conspiracy to overthrow the government and assisting an armed invasion by foreign troops. On June 12, 1964, all accused, including Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela was held on Robben Island until April 1982. He was then transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town.

A massive “Release Mandela Campaign” was launched in 1982 in South Africa and abroad — Mandela had become the world’s most famous political prisoner.

During his years in prison, Mandela’s reputation grew steadily. He was widely accepted as the most significant black leader in South Africa and became a potent symbol of resistance as the anti-apartheid movement gathered strength.

Mandela was released on February 11, 1990. A year later, at the first national conference of the ANC held inside South Africa after the organisation had been banned in 1960, Mandela was elected ANC president while his friend and colleague, Oliver Tambo, became the organisation’s national chairperson.

During late 1993 and early 1994, Mandela campaigned on behalf of the ANC for the 1994 election. In May, the Independent Electoral Commission announced that the ANC had won 62% of the vote and on May 9, 1994, Mandela was elected president of South Africa.

Mandela stepped down in 1999 after one term as president and has since set up three foundations bearing his name — the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation.

During this period he has had the love and support of his large family – including his wife Graça Machel, whom he married on his 80th birthday in 1998.

In April 2007 Mandla Mandela was installed as head of the Mvezo Traditional Council at an ‘ubek’ (anointment) ceremony at the Mvezo Great Place, the seat of the Madiba clan.

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