In November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly declared, 18 July Nelson Mandela International Day, to honour his birthday. This is the first time that the United Nations (UN) has designated a day dedicated to a person.
The UN has also asked the people of the world to set aside 67 minutes of their day to undertake a task that would contribute to bringing joy or relief to the millions of disadvantaged and vulnerable people of the world.
Mandela’s fame rests on his role as a revolutionary leader who spent nearly seven decades of his life in the struggle against white minority rule and for a free and democratic non-racial society. His greatness lies in the fact that he is a visionary, a democrat and international political leader who exercises his influence and leadership with humility and respect for his colleagues and opponents alike. He is, above all, a man who is stubborn in his resolve to fight all forms of discrimination, injustice and inequality.
On the 5th of December Mandela passed away at 8.50pm at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, surrounded by his wife, Graça Machel and members of his family.
Childhood and education (1918-1930s)
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is the son of Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Henry Mgadla Mandela, a chief and chief councillor to the paramount chief of the Thembu and a member of the Madiba clan. Mandela’s middle name is Rolihlahla, which literally means ‘pulling the branch of a tree’, or colloquially, ‘troublemaker’. His was given the name Nelson by his white missionary school teacher.
In 1930 when his father died, Mandela was placed under the care of his father’s cousin, David Dalindyebo, the acting paramount chief of the Thembu. Mandela was the first member of his family to attend high school and when he matriculated at Healdtown Methodist Boarding School in 1938 he formed part of a very small number of black pupils who had attained a high school education in the country.
The patronage of Mandela’s relative the paramount chief resulted in Mandela joining the chief’s sons, Justice when they were sent to the only university for Blacks (African, Coloured and Indian) at Fort Hare near Alice in the Eastern Cape. At Fort Hare, Mandela befriended African, Indian and Coloured students, many of whom went on to play leading roles in the South African liberation struggle and in the anti-colonial struggle in some African countries. One of Mandela’s fellow students was Oliver Tambo. They would become business partners, close comrades and lifelong friends.
Mandela did not complete his degree at Fort Hare. He was involved in a dispute related to elections of the Student Representative Council. Mandela refused to take his seat on the council because he disagreed with the way the elections were run. After he rejected the university’s ultimatum to take the seat to which the was elected or face expulsion, the university gave him until the end of the student holidays to think the matter through, but he felt there were principles at stake that could not be compromised. He informed his guardian that he was not going back to Fort Hare and stubbornly stood his ground when the Regent, Jongintaba, pleaded with him.
The Regent had coincidently also made arrangements for his son Justice and Mandela to marry two young women chosen by the Regent. Both young men decided to defy the Regent, stole two of his cattle and used them to raise funds to secretly leave for Johannesburg.
In Johannesburg, they contacted a ”homeboy“ who was employed at a gold mine as an Induna. He gave them shelter and jobs in the mine compound, but within days both were dismissed when the Induna learnt they had defied the chief and had left the Great Place without the chief’s permission.
Mandela found temporary lodging in Alexandra townships and communicated to the Regent his regret about defying and disrespecting him. Mandela convinced the Regent that he wanted to further his study in Johannesburg and received the Regent’s consent to remain in Johannesburg as well as financial support.
A few months into his stay in Johannesburg Mandela was introduced to a young estate agent named Walter Sisulu who immediately took him under his wing. Mandela moved in with Sisulu and his mother in their home in Orland, Soweto. Sisulu became Mandela’s lifelong friend, political mentor and closest political confident.
Sisulu found Mandela a white firm of attorneys who were prepared to give him a job and register him as an articled clerk, an exceedingly rare offer in segregated South Africa. While working at the firm Mandela enrolled for a BA degree in law at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits). At Wits he befriended fellow students I.C. Meer, J. Singh, Joe Slovo and Ruth First, all of whom were members of the South African Communist Party. Mandela became very close to I.C. Meer and J.N. Singh, both of whom played leading roles under the leadership of Dr. Yusuf Dadoo in making the Transvaal and Natal Indian Congress becoming mass-based and militant organisations. Both Meer and Singh served prison terms during the 1946 Indian Passive Resistance campaign.
An African Nationalist comes of age (1940s)
In 1944 Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) and soon became part of a group of young intellectuals that included Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Anton Lembede, and Ashley Mda. The group articulated its dissatisfaction with the way the ANC was being run, critiqued its policy of appeasement, and became the driving force in the formation of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) in April of the same year. Influenced by the militant action of the Natal and Transvaal Indian Congresses’ Passive Resistance campaign of 1946 and the mineworkers strike, the ANC Youth League began drafting what came to be known as the Programme of Action for the ANC.
On 15 July 1944 Mandela married Evelyn Mase, a nurse and Walter Sisulu’s cousin. The newlyweds moved to live with Evelyn’s married sister and became neighbours with Eskia (Es’kia) Mphahlele, a teacher and later a noted scholar, journalist, writer and activist. In 1945 Evelyn Mandela gave birth to the couple’s first child, a boy named Madiba Thembekile (Thembi for short). They were able to get a council house in Orlando, No 8115 which had three rooms, but neither electricity nor an inside toilet. Mandela’s younger sister, Nomabandla (Leaby), came to live with them and enrolled at Orlando High School. Evelyn was the breadwinner in the family while Mandela studied law at Wits where he devoted much of his time to politics.
In 1948 the National Party narrowly won a Whites-only national election on the platform of a new policy of total racial segregation called apartheid (which literally means apartness). By that stage, Mandela was National Secretary of the ANCYL. Mandela, Sisulu and Tambo began lobbying the ANC to embark on militant mass action against a plethora of new laws that the Nationalists were drawing up to give effect to apartheid. The lobbying paid off as at the ANC’s annual conference in December 1949, the Youth League’s Programme of Action adopted by the parent organization. Perhaps more importantly for the influence of the ANCYL, Walter Sisulu was elected Secretary General of the ANC.
From its inception, the ANCYL was heavily influenced by the strident African nationalism espoused by Anton Lembede, the League’s foremost ideologue. Mandela was a strong advocate of the Lembede line that the ANC should stand on its own and not enter into alliances with the Indian congress, the Communists Party or the Non-European Unity Movement. The Youth League’s policy of going it alone brought it into conflict with the ANC and led to the League opposing some of the most important campaigns of the 1940s, including the Mine Workers Strike, the Passive Resistance Campaign and the cooperation pact signed between the ANC President Dr Xuma and the South African Indian Congress (the ‘Doctor’s Pact’).
In 1950, when the Communist Party, the Transvaal and Natal Indian Congresses, and the ANC jointly endorsed the Free Speech Convention, Mandela was strident in his criticism, believing that the endorsement undermined the ANC Programme of Action and the ANC’s position as the leading liberation organisation. Notwithstanding his Africanist political stance, Mandela did not allow the issue to influence his personal relationships with Indian, White and African communist leaders.
A pivotal moment came in May 1950. The ANC, Communist Party and South African Indian Congress jointly called a national strike to protest the proposed banning of the Communist Party. The ‘May Day’ (1 May) strike was immensely successful and the government responded with unrestrained brutality. This experience was the spark that convinced Mandela that freedom would only come from forging a broad-based non-racial alliance against apartheid and white minority rule. Confronted by opposition from the ANC’s Africanist wing, Mandela stuck by this new position and together with Tambo and Communist Party general secretary Moses Kotane, they joined their friend Walter Sisulu in forging what came to be known as the Congress Alliance.
In 1952 the Congress Alliance embarked on the first of its national campaigns against a select number of Apartheid governments laws. The campaigns were modelled on the earlier passive resistance campaigns of the 1940s. In 1952 the Congress Alliance launched the Defiance Campaign, which continued for two years. While the Defiance Campaign did not succeed in changing any laws, the campaign transformed the ANC into a mass-based and militant organization and the largest of the liberation movements, growing from 7000 to over 100 000 by the time the campaign ended in 1954. The Defiance Campaign and the increasing stature of the ANC changed the nature of the South African freedom struggle.
‘Volunteer in chief’- A decade of defiance (1950s)
During the Defiance Campaign, Mandela emerged as one of the most influential leaders of the liberation struggle, alongside Walter Sisulu and Chief Albert Luthuli. Mandela was the public spokesperson and leader of the campaign and was appointed National ‘Volunteer-in-chief’. Together with Maulvi Cachalia of the Indian Congress, Mandela travelled around South Africa enlisting volunteers to defy apartheid laws. As a consequence, both were charged with recruiting and training ‘congress volunteers’.
The campaign officially began on 26 June 1952 when 51 volunteers led by President of the Transvaal Indian Congress Nana Sita and Patrick Duncan entered Boksburg Native Location in defiance of the law that required non-Africans to have permits to enter an African location. In the course of the campaign thousands of volunteers served harsh prison terms, but Mandela was instructed not to break the law or court arrest to ensure that the campaign would not be rendered leaderless should all the leaders be imprisoned at the same time. He was nevertheless arrested on several occasions during the course of the campaign and released after short stints in jail.
At the height of the Defiance Campaign, the ANC recognised the likelihood that the organisation would be banned as the Communist Party had been three years earlier. Asked by the ANC executive to devise a contingency plan for such an eventuality, Mandela drew up what became known as the ‘M Plan‘, which provided for the creation of street-based cell structures. During the same period, Mandela become more and more uneasy with the policy of non-violent resistance, but was held back by the ANC leadership’s strong advocacy of non-violence.
In December 1952, Tambo joined Mandela as a partner in his legal practice – the first African-run legal partnership in the country. During the next two years Mandela and Tambo worked together in their legal practice defending hundreds of people affected by apartheid laws. Their practice became very successful.
During the same month Mandela and 19 other leading congress alliance activists were arrested and charged under the Suppression of Communism Act. Mandela, like all the others, was sentenced to nine months imprisonment with hard labour, suspended for three years. He was also served with a banning order that prohibited him from attending gatherings for six months and from leaving the Johannesburg magisterial district. For the following nine years his banning orders were repeatedly renewed.
Although Mandela was officially the deputy national president of the ANC, he was not legally allowed to play any role in ANC activities because of his banning order. However, he continued to meet clandestinely with the ANC and Congress Alliance leadership. Thus, he played a key role in the planning of all the major campaigns during the 1950s. The ANC-led Alliance called off the Defiance Campaign at the end of 1953 after the government passed new legislation proposing very harsh sentences for people breaking apartheid laws.
One of the most important Congress Alliance campaigns was the Freedom Charter campaign. Mandela along with his banned colleagues Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, Moses Kotane and Joe Slovo played a leading role. The campaign culminated in the convening of the historic Congress of the People on 25-26th June 1955 in Kliptown near Soweto. However Mandela, Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada could not attend the conference because their banning orders prohibited their participation. They viewed the proceedings of the Kliptown conference from the rooftop of a nearby Indian-owned shop. At the end of 1955, while Mandela was imprisoned for two weeks, his wife moved out of their home. He found his house empty when he was released on bail.
Mandela was one of 156 African, Indian, Coloured and White men and women leaders in the Congress Alliance who were arrested and charged with Treason following a dramatic police raid in December 1956. For four-and-a-half years the Treason Trial dragged on with charges being periodically withdrawn against some of the accused.
In 1958, half way through the trial, Mandela married Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela, a social worker 16 years younger than him from Bizana in the Transkei.
In March 1961, Justice Rumpff found Mandela and the remaining 36 accused not guilty and discharged them.
Revolutionary Guerrilla Leader (1960s)
In 1959, with the Treason Trial still in progress, the ANC planned an anti-pass law campaign to begin on 31 March 1960. However, the campaign was pre-empted by the newly formed Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), which called for mass anti-pass protests on 21 March 1960. Heavily armed police outside a police station in the small southern Transvaal township of Sharpeville opened fire on a peaceful gathering of protesters killing 69 people and wounding more than 200 others, many of whom were shot in the back as they fled. The Sharpeville Massacre changed the face of South African politics. On 30 March 1960 the government declared a state of emergency, Mandela and 2000 other political activists across all liberation movements were detained.
On 8 April 1960 the government banned the ANC and PAC. The banning of political organisations and the shutting down of space for political protest prompted Mandela to begin seriously thinking about the armed struggle. The discussion to take up arms against the apartheid regime was also being discussed independently by activists detained under the emergency regulations as well as some leaders who had gone underground across all the remaining anti-apartheid groupings. The underground Communist Party had already smuggled a small group of people out of the country to receive military training in China.
Mandela and Tambo’s law firm had virtually collapsed, and Mandela rarely saw his family because of his semi-clandestine life. In August, when the state of emergency was lifted, Tambo was smuggled out of South Africa to establish an ANC office abroad.
With the release of political detainees, Mandela immediately became involved in discussions about convening a national convention. He was made secretary of the organising committee of the All-In Africa Conference and secretly travelled around the country preparing for the meeting. The All-In Africa Conference was held in Pietermaritzburg on 22 March 1961 and was attended by 1400 representatives from 145 political, cultural, sports and religious organisations. Mandela’s banning order expired on the eve of the conference. Anticipating that his ban would be renewed, he went into hiding and made a dramatic appearance at the conference, where he made his first public speech since his first banning in 1952.
The conference appointed him honorary secretary of the All-In African National Action Council, whose task was to organise a three day stay-at-home on 29, 30 and 31 May 1961 to coincide with the proclamation of South Africa as a Republic on 31 May. This was the last public meeting he addressed for the next 29 years. On 3 April 1961 Mandela issued a statement on behalf of the All-in African National Action Council calling on students and scholars to support the stay-at-home campaign.
Immediately after being acquitted in the Treason Trial which began in 1956 Mandela went underground. He and Sisulu secretly travelled around the country organising the strike, and Mandela (nicknamed the Black Pimpernel at the time) remained a fugitive for the next 17 months. Mandela called off the stay-at-home protest on its second day after massive police repression of strikers. The failure of this action was important in changing his political thinking and he became more committed to the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe (the Spear of the Nation, also known as MK) as the military wing of the ANC.
At about this time, Mandela and some of his colleagues concluded that violent resistance in South Africa was inevitable and that it was unreasonable for African leaders to continue with their policy of non-violent protest when the government met their demands with force. The decision to form MK, however, was not made by the ANC alone, but by a small leadership group comprised of Mandela, Sisulu and others representing the ANC, and the members of the Communist Party, including Joe Slovo. Thus, MK was jointly formed and launched by the ANC and Communist Party. Mandela was appointed MK’s first Commander-in-Chief. The decision to form MK was endorsed by a secret meeting of the Congress Alliance chaired by Chief Albert Luthuli.
On 11 January 1962 Mandela travelled under a pseudonym to Botswana and made a surprise appearance at the Pan-African Freedom Movement Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His address to the conference on 3 February, a few weeks after the first sabotage attacks by MK, explained and justified the turn to violent action.
During this trip he received ‘guerrilla’ training in Morocco by Algerian freedom fighters before travelling to London where he met with leaders of British opposition parties. He returned to South Africa in July and he travelled to Tongaat in Natal to meet with banned ANC President Albert Luthuli. After visiting friends in Durban, he began driving back with his white friend Cecil Williams to Johannesburg disguised as his chauffeur. On 5 August they were stopped and arrested just outside the Natal midlands town of Howick. It is alleged that the police were informed of Mandela’s movements by an American CIA agent based in Durban. Mandela was tried in Pretoria’s Old Synagogue and in November 1962 sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for incitement and illegally leaving the country. He was imprisoned at Pretoria Central Prison where he met his old friend and political opponent Robert Sobukwe, the leader of the breakaway PAC. Mandela spent seven months at Pretoria Central Prison before he was transferred to Robben Island.
In July police raided the underground safe house of the South African Communist Party at Lilliesleaf Farm, Rivonia. Among those arrested Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg and Lionel Bernstein. Police found Mandela’s diary of his African tour, documents relating to the manufacture of explosives, and copies of a draft memorandum entitled ‘Operation Mayibuye’, which set out the stages and requirements for a ‘guerrilla’ war.
The Rivonia Trial, as it came to be known, commenced in October 1963. Mandela was brought from Robben Island to stand trial with the rest of his comrades on charges of sabotage, conspiracy to overthrow the government by revolution, and assisting an armed invasion of South Africa by foreign troops. Mandela and his co-accused were convinced that they would be executed. Mandela, in a statement from the dock at the end of their trial, gave a powerful address in which he explained why he had turned from non-violent protest to armed struggle. ‘I am Prepared to Die’, as the statement came to be known, received worldwide publicity and enhanced Mandela’s status as the acknowledged leader of the South African liberation struggle.
Prisoner for Life (1964-1990)
On 12 June 1964 all the accused were sentenced to life imprisonment and held at Pretoria Central prison. That same night Mandela and his co-accused were flown by a military plane to Robben Island Prison. Upon arrival at the Robben Island airstrip, Mandela with others were handcuffed, loaded into a vehicle and taken into an old building as B Section, where he would be imprisoned, was still under construction. He was issued with prison clothes, shorts pants, no socks and sandals – not shoes. As the apartheid logic of racial segregation extended to the prison system, African prisoners received different food rations and clothes in contrast to their Indian and Coloured inmates. Mandela and his comrades were held in the Old Jail until 25 June.
Once construction of B section was complete, Mandela was relocated there. This section housed leaders and politically influential figures in single cells from across political formations, separate from other political prisoners and common law prisoners. The state feared that the influence of those in B Section might spread to other prisoners. Mandela and his comrades was held together and leaders of other South African political organisations. For instance, he shared B Section leading figures of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), African Resistance Movement (ARM) and the National Liberation Front (NLF). In addition, there was also a member of South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), Andimba Herman Toivo ya Toivo. In the 60s there were about 30 prisoners in B Section.
In January 1965 Mandela alongside other B Section prisoners were forced to work at the Lime Quarry where they dug lime which was used to pave roads. He was exposed to the glare of the lime particularly during summer resulting in eye damage despite their three year fight against prison authorities to obtain dark glasses for protection. In 1966 he took part in the hunger strike that was aimed at forcing prison officials to improve the food quality. Daily routine involved working for eight hours a day breaking slate boulders into gravel-sized stones. Prisoners were allowed one letter and one family visit every six months.
While Mandela was in prison, a number of people visited him. His wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela visited him in July 1966 after being granted permission to do so by the government on condition that she had a passbook. The visit was 30 minutes long and their conversations were monitored by prison guards. This was followed by another visit in June 1967. Then the following year in 1968 Mandela was visited by his mother, who was accompanied by his sister Mabel, his eldest daughter Makie and youngest son Makgatho. After visiting him, his mother died a few weeks later and prison authorities refused to grant him permission to bury his mother. Another tragedy struck in 1969 when his eldest son Thembi died in road accident.
There were other visits from government officials, members of Parliament and other political figures from outside South Africa. In 1976 the Minister of Prisons Jimmy Kruger visited him and offered to release him on condition that he recognized the independence of the Transkei, and that he goes to live there. Mandela out rightly rejected this overture by Kruger. That same year Helen Suzman, a member of the Progressive Party, visited him in prison. Dennis Healey a British MP from the Labour Party visited Mandela on Robben Island.
In the 1970s prisoners were allowed to keep a vegetable garden after years on petitioning the authorities. Mandela took great interest in gardening. By 1975 Mandela had been reclassified as an “A” group prisoner allowing him three letters and two non contact visits. Between 1975 and 1976, Mandela worked on writing his autobiography. Mac Maharaj was due for release in 1976, and it was felt that Mandela’s biography could be smuggled out of prison by Mac and published on his 60 birthday anniversary in 1978. Mandela spent four months secretly writing his autobiography. His script was re-written by Mac Maharaj and Laloo Chiba into a very small handwriting and hidden in the Maharaj’s study books. Copies of the original manuscripts were wrapped in plastic cocoa containers and buried in the different sections of the garden. As planned, Mac smuggled copies of Mandela’s biography on his release. But, in 1977 when prison authorities began building a wall to completely isolate B Section they discovered the manuscript hidden in the garden. As a consequence, study privileges for Mandela, Kathrada and Sisulu were revoked for four years.
On 31 March 1982 Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba and Andrew Mlangeni were transferred from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison, while Ahmed Kathrada, Elias Motsoaledi and Govan Mbeki were left behind. They were also finally moved to Pollsmoor in April. That same year a campaign demanding the release of all political prisoners was launched in South Africa and abroad. The campaign was titled ‘Release Nelson Mandela’ and together with the campaign for economic and other sanctions against South Africa become the symbol of the international Anti-Apartheid Movement. For several decades it was the largest social movement in the world.
With the apartheid government reeling under international pressure and mounting internal unrest, state president P.W Botha was forced to issue a statement on 31 January 1985 that he was prepared to release Mandela and other Rivonia Trialists. This was on condition that he renounced violence and the armed struggle. Mandela issued his response through a letter read by his daughter Zinzi Mandela at a United Democratic Front (UDF) organised Rally in Soweto which rejected the offer. Despite this rejection, Botha repeated his willingness to release Mandela on 15 February under the same conditions stated in the previous statement, but Mandela stood his ground. From July 1986 onwards a small group of the government and intelligence agents visited Mandela to persuade him to renounce the armed struggle. Mandela refused but did not close the door to dialogue with the government. He had contact with government representatives, first with Minister of Justice Kobie Coetzee and subsequently with Minister of Constitutional Development Gerrit Viljoen.
In 1988 the ANC and the Mass democratic Movement inside South Africa planned worldwide celebrations to mark Mandela’s 70th birthday prepared for mass celebrations inside the country. The government banned all gatherings and arrested some activists and leaders of the birthday celebrations. A 12-hour music concert in London, broadcasted to over 50 countries, drew enormous attention and many foreign countries pressured the South African government to release Mandela.
On 12 August 1988 Mandela was taken to Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town for treatment for fluid on the lungs. He stayed in hospital for six weeks. It was subsequently revealed that he was suffering from tuberculosis. On 31 August he was transferred to the Constantiaberg Medi-Clinic where he was treated until 7 December. From here Mandela was moved to a house in the grounds of the Victor Verster Prison, near Paarl. On 4 July 1989, Nelson Mandela held a short meeting with State President P.W Botha at Tuynhuys in the Parliamentary precinct. Botha resigned as state president in August 1989 and was succeeded by F.W De Klerk.
In December 1989, Mandela met the new state president, FW de Klerk. Unknown to the government, Mandela had kept Oliver Tambo, the President of the ANC in exile informed of his discussions with the government through Mac Maharaj, a former Robben Island prisoner and a confidant of Mandela. Maharaj had secretly entered South African and established a highly sophisticated underground network known as ‘Operation Vula’. In addition to meeting government representatives, Mandela was allowed to meet with senior members of the UDF, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and other political groups. At this point, the government realised that apartheid was nearing its end, and opted for formal negotiations with the ANC through Mandela.
Free at last – negotiations to presidency (1994-1999)
On 2 February 1990 State President FW De Klerk announced in his speech upon formally opening Parliament the unbanning of the ANC and all other proscribed political parties; and the release Mandela and all other political prisoners. On Sunday 11 February, after 27 years in prison, Mandela was released from Victor Verster prison.
That same day he addressed a mass rally in the centre of Cape Town, his first public appearance in nearly three decades, beginning his speech with, “I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all”. Subsequent welcome rallies held in Soweto and Durban drew thousands of people.
The following month Mandela travelled to Lusaka to meet the ANC’s Executive Committee. He then travelled to Sweden to meet his comrade and friend Oliver Tambo, but had to cut short the rest of his proposed trip abroad as a result of increased unrest in South Africa.
In May 1990, Mandela headed an ANC delegation in talks with South African government representatives at Groote Schuur in Cape Town. At the end of the meeting a document known as the Groote Schuur Minute was signed. In June, he began a six week tour of Europe, the United Kingdom, North America and Africa. His reception by heads of state and hundreds of thousands of admirers confirmed his stature as an internationally respected leader. In July that year he attended the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia but had to leave for Kenya when he contracted pneumonia. Talks resumed with the South African government in August and in the same month Mandela visited Norway. This was followed by visits to Zambia, India and Australia.
In February 1991, Mandela met with Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, president of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), in an attempt to end the political violence sweeping Natal and the Transvaal. However, despite their pledges to work towards peace, the violence continued. Mandela then issued an ultimatum to the government, setting a deadline by which it had to fire the Minister of Defence and Minister of Law and Order and end the ongoing violence. He indicated that the ANC would quit the negotiation process if these demands were not met. The government failed to meet these demands.
Mandela attended a meeting between the ANC and the PAC in Harare in April 1991 where the movement resolved to work together to oppose apartheid. A joint sub-committee was established to lobby the European Community to reverse its decision to lift bans on steel imports from South Africa. The meeting also agreed to convene a conference of anti-apartheid organisations in support of the demand for a national constituent assembly.
In June 1991 Mandela attended the OAU summit in Abuja, Nigeria, following which he travelled to the United Kingdom and Belgium. A month later, at the ANC conference in Durban, he was elected ANC president, succeeding the ailing Oliver Tambo. In August Mandela travelled to countries in South America.
He signed the National Peace Accord on behalf of the ANC in September 1991. This agreement between a number of political organisations, including the ANC, Inkatha Freedom Party and the National Party, established structures and procedures to attempt to end political violence which had become widespread.
In October 1991, a meeting of the Patriotic Front was held in Durban in an attempt to bring together all the anti-apartheid groupings in the country. All attended with the exception of the Azanian People’s Organisation. Policy regarding future negotiations was formulated and the ANC and the PAC began preparatory meetings for the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa). However, the PAC could not see its way clear to participate in the convention. In November that year, Mandela travelled to West Africa and the following month met United States President George Bush Snr.
The first meeting of Codesa, set up to negotiate procedures for constitutional change, was held in December 1991. At the end of the plenary session, after De Klerk had raised the question of disbanding Umkhonto we Sizwe, Mandela delivered a scathing personal attack on him. Mandela argued that even the head of an illegitimate, discredited minority regime should have certain moral standards.
During 1992, Mandela continued his programme of extensive international travel, visiting Tunisia, Libya and Morocco. He and De Klerk jointly accepted Unesco’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize in Paris on 3 February. At the same time the two men attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
On 13 April 1992, Mandela called a press conference at which he stated that he and his wife, Winnie, had agreed to separate as a result of differences which had arisen between them in recent months. Later in April Mandela, De Klerk and the IFP’s Buthelezi addressed a gathering of more than a million members of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) at Moria, near Pietersburg, and committed themselves to end the ongoing violence and move speedily towards a political settlement.
In May 1992 the second plenary meeting of Codesa was held, but the working group dealing with constitutional arrangements reached a deadlock when the ANC and the government could not reach agreement on certain constitutional principles. Codesa’s management committee was asked to find a way out of the logjam but by 16 June (by then known as Soweto Day) no progress had been made and the ANC called for a mass action campaign to put pressure on the South African government.
While visiting the Scandinavian countries and Czechoslovakia in May, Mandela suggested that FW de Klerk was personally responsible for the political violence in South Africa. He likened the violence in South Africa to the killing of Jews in Nazi Germany. Mandela also criticised what he felt was the stranglehold imposed on the South African press, which represented White-owned conglomerates; however, he expressed support for a critical, independent and investigative press.
Following the Boipatong massacre of June 1992, Mandela announced the suspension of negotiations until ANC demands were met, including that the government take steps to end political violence, form a transitional government and move towards the election of a constituent assembly. At the end of June Mandela addressed a Heads of States Summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Dakar, Senegal. The OAU agreed to raise the issue of South Africa’s continuing political violence at the United Nations. In July, Mandela and representatives of other South African parties addressed the UN Security Council. Mandela asked the UN to provide continuous monitoring of the violence and submitted documents, which he claimed, proved the ‘criminal intent’ of the government, both in the instigation of violence and in failing to curb it. He maintained that the government was conducting a ‘cold-hearted strategy of state terror to impose its will on negotiations’.
On his return to South Africa, Mandela called for disciplined and peaceful protest and involved himself in the ANC’s mass action campaign. Following violent incidents between ANC supporters in the Transvaal, Mandela admitted that the organisation had disciplinary problems with some of its followers, particularly in township Self-Defence Units and promised to take action against those who abused positions of power and authority.
During 1992, Mandela indicated that the ANC had shifted its economic thinking, particularly with regard to nationalisation. This was no longer viewed as an ideological imperative, but merely as one policy option. He continued to stress the need to redress economic imbalances, but noted that the ANC was aware of both local and international business hostility towards nationalisation.
Mandela indicated in September 1992 that he was prepared to meet De Klerk on condition that he agreed to fence off township hostels, ban the public display of dangerous weapons and release political prisoners. They met at the end of the month and these bi-lateral talks resulted in the signing of a Record of Understanding between the two leaders, thereby enabling negotiations to resume.
During 1992 and 1993 Mandela repeatedly called for peace. Following the assassination of the South African Communist Party (SACP) leader, Chris Hani, in April 1993, he again called for restraint, discipline and peace. At a rally in Soweto’s Jabulani Stadium he was booed by a militant crowd when he tried to convey a message of peace in the wake of the killing. Mandela caused a political row in May when he suggested that South Africa’s voting age should be lowered to enable 14 year old children to vote. However, he was persuaded to accept that only people aged 18 and above could vote in the April 1994 elections.
In September 1993, after the election date had been set for 27-29 April 1994, Mandela used a visit to the United States of America to urge world business leaders to lift economic sanctions and invest in South Africa. During the latter half of 1993 and early 1994 he campaigned on behalf of the ANC for the 1994 election and addressed a large number of rallies and people’s forums. At the same time, he continued his efforts to draw the Freedom Alliance partners (White right wing groups, IFP, Bophuthatswana and Ciskei Bantustan governments) into the election process. However, he ruled out the possibility of delaying the election date to accommodate them.
In March 1994, following a civil uprising in the Bophuthatswana bantustan, which led to the downfall of the Mangope government, Mandela guaranteed striking civil servants their jobs, but harshly criticised the looting that had occurred during the unrest. In April, last minute talks were held in the Kruger Park between Mandela, De Klerk, Buthelezi and Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini to try to break the deadlock on IFP participation in the elections. The meeting was unsuccessful and was followed by an attempt at international mediation. This, too, failed, but a final effort by Kenyan academic, Washington Okumu, brought the IFP back into the election process. Mandela and De Klerk then signed an agreement regarding the future status of the Zulu King.
Mandela contested the April 1994 election as the head of the ANC. He cast his vote in Inanda, Durban, on the first day of voting on 27 April 1994. Early in May the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) announced that the ANC had won 62% of the national vote. Mandela indicated his relief that the ANC did not achieve a two-thirds majority, as this would allay fears that it would unilaterally re-write the constitution. He restated his commitment to a government of national unity wherein each party shared in the exercise of power.
On 9 May, Mandela was elected unopposed as president of South Africa in the first session of the Constituent Assembly. His presidential inauguration took place the next day at the Union Buildings in Pretoria and was attended by the largest gathering of international leaders in South African history, as well as about 100 000 jubilant supporters on the lawns. The ceremony was televised and broadcast internationally. In his inaugural speech Mandela called for a ‘time of healing’ and stated that his government would fight against discrimination of any kind. He pledged to enter into a covenant to build a society in which all South Africans, Black and White, could walk tall without fear, assured of their rights to human dignity, ‘a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world’.
In his State of the Nation speech in parliament on 24 May 1994, Mandela announced that R2.5 billion would be allocated in the 1994/95 budget for the government’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). His pragmatic economic policy was welcomed by business in general.
Mandela continued to draw the right White wing into the negotiation process and in May 1994 held a breakthrough meeting with the leader of the Conservative Party (CP), Ferdie Hartzenberg. Negotiations also involved a possible meeting with Eugene Terre Blanche, leader of the neo-nazi Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB).
In June Mandela attended the OAU summit in Tunis and was appointed second vice-president of the organisation. The following month he held talks with his Angolan, Mozambican and Zairean counterparts in an attempt to further peace-making efforts in Angola. UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi welcomed his participation in the peace process.
Mandela underwent eye surgery for a cataract in July. The operation was complicated by the fact that his tear glands had been damaged by the alkalinity of the stone at Robben Island where he had done hard labour breaking rocks.
In September 1994 Mandela made a crucial speech at the annual conference of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) where he called on the labour movement to transform itself from a liberation movement to one that would assist in the building of a new South Africa. He warned that workers would lose their jobs if production costs rose because of unnecessary labour unrest and he called on workers to assist in making the ANC’s RDP programme work.
The government of national unity nearly collapsed in January 1995 over an alleged secret attempt by two former cabinet ministers and 3 500 police to obtain indemnity on the eve of the April 1994 elections. At a cabinet meeting on 18 January, Mandela attacked Deputy President De Klerk, stating that he did not believe De Klerk was unaware of the indemnity applications. He went on to question De Klerk’s commitment to reconciliation. At a press conference on 20 January, De Klerk maintained that this attack on his integrity and good faith could seriously jeopardise the future of the government of national unity.
In April 1995, Mandela discharged his estranged wife, Winnie, as Deputy Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, following a series of controversial issues in which she was involved. She challenged her dismissal in the Supreme Court, claiming that it was unconstitutional. She obtained an affidavit from IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi to the effect that he had not, as a leader of a party in the government of national unity, been consulted about her dismissal. This was a constitutional requirement. Winnie Mandela was then briefly reinstated before being dismissed again, Mandela having consulted with all party leaders involved in the government.
In May 1995, following a dispute between the IFP and the ANC regarding international mediation for the new constitution, Buthelezi called on Zulus to ‘rise and resist’ any imposed constitutional dispensation. Mandela accused Buthelezi of encouraging violence and attempting to foment an uprising against central government. In this context, Mandela threatened to cut off central government funding to KwaZulu-Natal, indicating that he would not allow public funds to be used to finance an attempt to overthrow the constitution by violent means. Although a subsequent meeting between the two leaders seemed cordial in tone, the matter of mediation remained an unresolved point of conflict and the ANC’s relationship with the IFP remained strained.
Mandela in retirement (1999 -)
Mandela retired from active political life in June 1999 after his first term of office as president. He was succeeded by Thabo Mbeki, who had been elected as ANC president in 1997. Mandela continued to play an active role in mediating conflicts around the world. For instance, in 2000 he was appointed mediator in the war-torn, Burundi, a mission he accomplished with applause.
Mandela has a son and a daughter from his first marriage to Evelyn Ntoko Mase, a nurse, whom he divorced in 1957. Their third child, Thembi, was killed in a car accident. In 1958 he married Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela, from whom he separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996 after a marriage of 38 years. They have two daughters. He has eighteen grandchildren.
On his eightieth birthday on 18 July 1998 he married Graca Machel. In 2003 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
He has devoted a large amount of his time to raising funds for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. In November 2003 a concert was held at Green Point Stadium to raise funds for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and global AIDS organisations. International stars responded to Mandela’s call and the concert was called Nelson Mandela’s 46664 Global AIDS initiative (466/64 was Mandela’s prisoner number during his 27 years of incarceration).
Evelyn Mase died on 4 April 2004 and Mandela cut short his overseas trip to attend her funeral. On 10 May 2004 Mandela addressed a joint-sitting of parliament in celebrating a decade of democracy. Throughout the months of April and May, Mandela lobbied intensely in support of South Africa’s bid to host the 2010 World Cup. According to him, it was going to be a befitting present for the 10 years of democracy. On 15 May 2004 he was in Zurich, Switzerland when South Africa was awarded the right to host the 2010 soccer showpiece. Mandela cried openly at the achievement. He said he felt like a 15-year-old boy and the memory would live with him forever.
In 2005, in an attempt to destigmatise HIV and AIDS, he came out openly to announce that his son Makgatho, from his first wife Evelyn Mase, had died of AIDS.
On 1 June 2004 Mandela announced that he was bowing out of public life to lead a quieter life, issuing the now famous statement: Don’t call me, I’ll call You, to those who would require his presence at their functions. Though retired from public life, Mandela carried the Olympic torch on Robben Island on 14 June 2004 on its first journey on African soil since the inception of the Olympic Games.
Mandela is a recipient of numerous awards and honours both within South Africa and abroad. The unending invitation to him to receive more awards and honours prompted him to publicly urge that other leaders in the struggle to liberate and democratise South Africa should be recognised and honoured as he had been.
His 88th birthday celebrations on 18 July 2006 kicked off with a new round of honours, including a photo exhibit and the release of a book called The Meaning of Mandela during the week before his birthday. The event was meant to be part of a series of three, which the Nelson Mandela Foundation would be conducting to celebrate Mandela’s birthday, according to Jakes Gerwel, chairman of the foundation’s board. The photo exhibition by South African veterans Alf Khumalo and Jurgen Schadeberg capture Mandela’s years as a young lawyer and the emergence of Black resistance before he was jailed for 27 years in 1964 and includes photographs of his family.
Events to celebrate the birthday of the ageing statesman that year also included a ceremony to present him and fellow graduates of Fort Hare University with honorary rings, as well as the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, to be delivered by South African President Thabo Mbeki. However, he also spent some quiet time with his family. Gifts for his birthday were countless. Among the notable ones were cigars and rum from his old friend, President Fidel Castro of Cuba. Although he retired from active politics and cut down on functions, Mandela still continued to do charitable work. He campaigned for health and educational issues through the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.
As part of his 89th birthday in 2007, Mandela established The Elders, a group of 12 eminent leaders chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who aim to use their wisdom to tackle global problems. On 30 April 2008 the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the flagging of Mandela on the US terrorist watch lists “embarrassing”, and US lawmakers’ erased references to Mandela as a terrorist from national databases on 26 June. To celebrate his 90th birthday, the Soweto Heritage Trust began restoration work on Mandela House, in Soweto. The United Nations General Assembly announced on 10 November 2009 that Mandela’s birthday would henceforth be known as “Mandela Day” marking his contribution to world freedom.
Tragedy struck when Zenani, Mandela’s great-granddaughter, was killed in a car accident in June 2010, forcing Mandela to cancel plans to attend the opening of the 2010 World Soccer Cup at Soccer City, Johannesburg. She was buried on 17 June. However, Mandela was able to briefly attend the closing ceremony of the Soccer World Cup at Soccer City, Johannesburg.
At the beginning of January 2011, Mandela was checked into Milpark Hospital with acute respiratory difficulties but returned home on 28 January. Mandela soon moved back to his home in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape.
On 27 March, Google and The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory’s launched the Nelson Mandela Multimedia Archive. The archive digitises photographs, recordings and documents related to Mandela and makes them available online.