Nelson Mandela - a profile

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born at Qunu, a village near Umtata in the Transkei on 18 July 1918. His father, Henry Mgadla Mandela, was the Chief Councillor to Thembuland's acting paramount chief, David Dalindyebo. After his father's death, Mandela became a ward of the chief, and was groomed for Chieftainship. But being greatly influenced by the many cases that came before the Chief's court, he was determined to become a lawyer. Hearing of the valor of his ancestors also influenced his determination to contribute to the freedom struggle in South Africa.

After matriculating, he enrolled for a BA degree at the University of Fort Hare. As a member of the Student Representative Council, he participated in a student strike and was subsequently expelled from the University. He completed his BA degree through correspondence in Johannesburg, after which he commenced study for a LL.B. at the University of Witwatersrand. His political involvement really began in 1942 when he joined the African National Congress.

In 1944 he helped found the ANC Youth League and in 1952 was elected national volunteer-in chief of the Defiance Campaign. In the same year, Mandela and 0liver Tambo opened the first black legal firm in South Africa, and he was both Transvaal President of the ANC and deputy national president. In the early 1950's, Mandela played a leading role in resisting Bantu Education. In the late 50's, he turned his attention to labour exploitation, the pass laws the Bantustan policy and the segregation of open universities. Throughout this period Mandela was banned, arrested and imprisoned.

In 1960 the ANC was banned and Mandela was detained until 1961 when he went underground. In the same year, together with other leaders of the ANC, he constituted Umkhonto we Sizwe, with a view to preparing for an armed struggle. In 1961 MK was formed as the military arm of the ANC with Mandela as its commander-in-chief. In 1962 he was arrested for leaving the country illegally and for inciting strike action. During his trial he conducted his own defence. He was convicted and jailed for five years. While serving his sentence, he was charged in the Rivonia trial with sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment in Robben Island.

While in prison he remained a symbol of hope and resistance for others in the freedom struggle. After a series of negotiations, Mandela was released from prison on 11 February 1990. He was inaugurated as South Africa's first democratically elected President on 10 May 1994.



"This is one of the most important moments in the life of our country. I stand here before you filled with deep pride and joy - pride in the ordinary, humble people of this country. You have shown such calm, patient determination to reclaim this country as your own, and now the joy that we can loudly proclaim from the rooftops - Free at last! Free at last! I stand before you humbled by your courage, with a heart full of love for you. I regard it as the highest honour to lead the ANC at this moment in our history. I am your servant.... It is not the individuals that matter, but the collective.... This is the time to heal the old wounds and build a new South Africa."

"Today the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our own decisive mass action in order to build peace and security. The mass campaign of defiance and other actions of our organisation and people can only culminate with the establishment of democracy .... 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 will be created soon so that there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle."

"There was much in such a society that was primitive and insecure and it certainly could never measure up to the demands of the present epoch. But in such a society are contained the seeds of revolutionary democracy in which none will be held in slavery or servitude, and in which poverty, want and insecurity shall be no more. This is the inspiration which, even today, inspires me and my colleagues in our political struggle."

"The government has interpreted the peacefulness of the movement as a weakness: the people's non-violent policies have been taken as a green light for government violence. Refusal to resort to force has been interpreted by the government as an invitation to use armed force against the people without any fear of reprisals."

"I have never cared very much for personal prizes. A man does not become a freedom fighter in the hope of winning awards, but when I was notified that I had won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Mr de Klerk, I was deeply moved. The Nobel Peace Prize had a special meaning to me because of its involvement with South African history.... The award was a tribute to all South Africans and especially to those who fought in the struggle; I would accept it on their behalf."



"It is, however, well known that the main national liberation organisations in this country have consistently followed a policy of non-violence. They have conducted themselves peaceably at all times, regardless of government attacks and persecutions upon them, and despite all government-inspired attempts to provoke them to violence. They have done so because the people prefer peaceful methods of change to achieve their aspirations without the suffering and bitterness of civil war."

"It was the government that should have been told to refrain from its inhuman policy of violence and massacre, not the African people .... It was further argued that it is wrong and indefensible for a political Organisation to repudiate picketing, which is used the world over as a legitimate form of pressure to prevent scabbing. Even up to the present day the question that is being asked with monotonous regularity up and down the country is this: is it politically correct to continue preaching peace and non-violence when dealing with a government whose barbaric practices have brought so much suffering and misery to Africans."

"I regard it as a duty which I owed, not just to my people, but also to my profession, to the practice of law, and to the justice for all mankind, to cry out against this discrimination which is essentially unjust and opposed to the whole basis of the attitude towards justice which is part of the tradition of legal training in this country. I believed that in taking up a stand against this injustice I was upholding the dignity of what should be an honorable profession."

"Of all the observations I have made on the strike, none has brought forth so much heat and emotion as the stress and emphasis we put on non- violence. Our most loyal supporters, whose courage and devotion has never been doubted, unanimously and strenuously disagreed with this approach and with the assurances we gave that we would not use any form of intimidation whatsoever to induce people to stay away from work. It was argued that the soil of our beloved country has been stained with the priceless blood of African patriots murdered by the Nationalist government in the course of peaceful and disciplined demonstrations to assert their claims and legitimate aspirations."


"I hate racial discrimination most intensely and all its manifestations. I have fought all my life; I fight now, and will do so until the end of my days. Even although I now happen to be tried by one, whose opinion I hold in high esteem, I detest most violently the set-up that surrounds me here. It makes me feel that I am a Black man in a White man's court. This should not be I should feel perfectly at ease and at home with the assurance that I am being tried by a fellow South African, who does not regard me as an inferior, entitled to a special type of justice."

"How can I be expected to believe that this same racial discrimination which has been the cause of so much injustice and suffering right through the years, should now operate here to give me a fair and open trial?....consider myself neither morally nor legally obliged to obey laws made by a Parliament in which I am not represented. That the will of the people is the basis of the authority of government, is a principle universally acknowledged as sacred throughout the civilized world."

"Whatever the sentence Your Worship sees fit to impose upon me for the crime for which I have been convicted before this court may it rest assured that when my sentence has been completed, I will still be moved as men are always moved, by their conscience. I will still be moved by my dislike of the race discrimination against my people. When I come out from serving my sentence, I will take up again, as best I can, the struggle for the removal of those injustices until they are finally abolished."


"I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended."

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this 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."

"I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom. Too many have died since I went to prison. Too many have suffered for the love of freedom. I owe it to their widows, to their orphans, to their mothers and their fathers, who have grieved and wept for them ..... Not only have I suffered during these long lonely wasted years. I am no less life-loving than you are. But I cannot sell the birthright of the people to be free ....... Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated."

"The time comes in the life of any nation when there remains only two choices - submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defense of our people, our future, and our freedom.

"You can see that, there is no easy walk to freedom anywhere and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires. Dangers and difficulties have not deterred us in the past, they will not frighten us now. But we must be prepared for them, like men who mean business and who do not waste energy in vain talk and idle action. The way of preparation for action lies in our rooting out all impurity and indiscipline from our organization and making it the bright and shining instrument that will cleave its way to Africa's freedom."