In Political Praise of: Nelson Mandela
It goes without saying that Nelson Mandela is one of the great iconic figures of the Twentieth Century, and there are not many of them around today.
Born, Rolihlahla Mandela, in 1918 to the Thembu Xhosa family (Mandela's father was a counsel to the Thembu King), Mandela was given the name Nelson at the age of seven by his Methodist teacher. Mandela was the first member of his family to attend school and spent his teenage years at the local Wesleyan school, where he was quickly noticed as highly intelligent and quick to apply himself.
It was whilst studying at Fort Hare University that Mandela met his lifelong friend and fellow activist, Oliver Tambo, and Fort Hare was where Mandela was involved in his first campaign, when he joined in a boycott of the Student's Represnetative Council, in protest at some of the University's policies. For this he was asked to leave and his guardian (Mandela's father was dead by this point) informed Mandela that he had arranged a marriage for him.
Understandably not best pleased about this, Mandela ran away to Johannesburg, where he soon became a clerk at a law firm, thanks to the efforts of another friend, Walter Sisulu. Mandela then completed his degree and started to study law.
Joining the African National Congress in 1942, Mandela joined the Youth League and was prominent in many of the initial campaigns against the South African government after the policy of apartheid started in 1948. During which Mandela and Tambo, who by then were running a law firm, were providing a free service or low cost to many black people who would otherwise have no representation.
Initially committed to the stance of a non-violent mass struggle, Mandela and 150 others were arrested in 1956 and charged with treason. The trial lasted five years, after which all 150 were aquitted. By then, however, things had taken a more drastic turn.
The massacre at Sharpville in 1960, led to the banning of several organisations, including the ANC, which in turn led to the ANC supporting the "armed-struggle" . This was a controversial move and in the 1980s gave many right-wingers in western countries (one thinks particually of the Federation of Conservative Students in Britain)all the excuse they needed to brand Mandela a terrorist. The armed-struggle in this context is something I am unsure as to whether it was the right thing to do, but it is clear that they were provoked beyond reason. Mandela led the armed-wing of the ANC and made a clandestine visit abroad, meeting politicians such as Hugh Gaitskell. It was whilst outside South Africa that he discovered that the ANC had little recognition at the expense of the South African Communist Party. It is speculated that his confrontation with them on his return, led to his betrayal and arrest, although Mandela brushes this aside.
He was charged with high treason, and in 1964 was sentenced (with seven others) to lifelong imprisonment. For the next twenty-six years, Mandela became a rallying point for the struggle against apartheid, to the point where Botha offered him a conditional release in 1985, but Mandela wanted to be freed on his terms, not theirs! However, it was only a matter of time before he was released unconditionally, on February 18th 1990. Shortly afterwards, the apartheid system was dismantled.
With full-democratic elections in 1994, Mandela was elected President, and although he was thought not to be as effective as hoped, he has done much since he left office. Not least in his contribution to the Make Poverty History and 46664 AIDS fundraising campaigns.