Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa on July 18, 1918. His father was Chief Henry Mandela of the Tembu Tribe. Mandela himself was educated at University College of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand and qualified in law in 1942. He joined the African National Congress in 1944 and was engaged in resistance against the ruling National Party's apartheid policies after 1948. He went on trial for treason in 1956-1961 and was acquitted in 1961.
After the banning of the ANC in 1960, Nelson 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 by the ANC. This led to the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to five years' imprisonment with hard labour. In 1963, when many fellow leaders of the ANC and the Umkhonto we Sizwe were arrested, Mandela was brought to stand trial with them for plotting to overthrow the government by violence. His statement from the dock received considerable international publicity. On June 12, 1964, eight of the accused, including Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment. From 1964 to 1982, he was incarcerated at Robben Island Prison, off Cape Town; thereafter, he was at Pollsmoor Prison, nearby on the mainland.
During his years in prison, Nelson 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. He consistently refused to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom.
Nelson Mandela was released on February 11, 1990. After his release, he plunged himself wholeheartedly into his life's work, striving to attain the goals he and others had set out almost four decades earlier. In 1991, at the first national conference of the ANC held inside South Africa after the organization had been banned in 1960, Mandela was elected President of the ANC while his lifelong friend and colleague, Oliver Tambo, became the organisation's National Chairperson.
From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1993, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1994
This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures. The information is sometimes updated with an addendum submitted by the Laureate. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.
Mandela, Nelson. Nelson Mandela Speaks: Forging a Democratic, Nonracial South Africa. New York: Pathfinder, 1993.
Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom. The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Boston & New York: Little Brown, 1994.
Mandela, Nelson. The Struggle Is My Life. New York: Revised, Pathfinder, 1986. Originally published as a tribute on his 60th birthday in 1978. Speeches, writings, historical accounts, contributions by fellow prisoners.
Benson, Mary. Nelson Mandela, the Man and the Movement. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994. Updated from 1986 edition. Based on interviews by a friend of Mandela since the 1950s.
de Klerk, Willem. F. W. de Klerk: The Man in His Time. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball, 1991. By his brother.
Gilbey, Emma. The Lady. The Life and Times of Winnie Mandela. London: Cape, 1993. Most comprehensive biography.
Harrison, Nancy. Winnie Mandela: Mother of a Nation. London: Gollancz, 1985. Authorised favourable biography.
Johns, Sheridan and R. Hunt Davis, Jr., eds. Mandela, Tambo and the ANC: The Struggle Against Apartheid. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Documentary survey.
Mandela, Winnie. Part of My Soul. NY & London: Norton, 1984. Edited by Anne Benjamin and Mary Benson.
Meer, Fatima. Higher Than Hope: The Authorized Biography of Nelson Mandela. NY: Harper, 1990. By family friend, with Mandela’s corrections. Foreword by Winnie Mandela.
M Meredith, Martin. Nelson Mandela. A Biography. New York: St, Martin’s, 1998. By an authority on South Africa. Recommended reading.
Ottaway, David. Chained Together. Mandela de Klerk, and the Struggle to Remake South Africa. New York: Times Books, 1993. Critical treatment by well-informed journalist.
Sparks, Allister. Tomorrow Is Another Country: The Inside Story of South Africa’s Road to Change. New York: Hill & Wang, 1995. By a distinguished South African journalist.
Waldmeir, Patti. Anatomy of a Miracle: The End of Apartheid and the Birth of a New South Africa. London: Viking, 1997.
From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1991-1995, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1999
This autobiography/biography was first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.
For more updated biographical information, see:
Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Little, Brown and Co., Boston, 1994.
Nelson Mandela had a traditional childhood as a member of the Tembu ruling family in the Transkei where he herded sheep and learnt to plough. From his Methodist school he went on to study at Fort Hare college, but was suspended for organising the students.
To complete his studies and to avoid a threatened arranged marriage he went to Johannesburg where he met Walter Sisulu - a self-educated fighter against apartheid in South Africa. Sisulu arranged for Mandela to study law.
In 1944, when he was 26, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) and with Sisulu and Oliver Tambo helped to form its Youth League. Mandela, with his determination to rid the people of a sense of inferiority after years of oppression, was elected its General Secretary. By 1949 the League had persuaded the ANC to adopt a more militant programme of strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience.
From then on the government played cat-and-mouse with Mandela - imprisoning him for his politics, outlawing him, forcing him to go underground and into exile. "I found myself restricted and isolated from my fellow men, tailed by officers of the Special Branch wherever I went... I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for."
On 26 June 1955 at Kliptown 3,000 people adopted the Freedom Charter of the ANC. There, Mandela and other members went out of their way to include everyone in their vision: "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white". But the government did not like the growing support of the ANC and its ability to attract a mass membership. In 1956 Mandela and 155 others were arrested and charged with treason - an alleged Communist-inspired coup. After an investigation taking four and a half years, the Treason Trial failed; nothing was proven. It was during this time that Mandela met and married Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela, a social worker. Despite the fact that for most of their married life, Mandela was either forced into hiding or in jail, she herself was subject to frequent restrictions and house arrests by the government.
The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 was a watershed in south African politics. Groups like the ANC realised that peaceful protests were not enough. In 1961 Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the ANC, was created. And Mandela had, once again, to go into exile. He returned to South Africa and, in 1962, was captured and charged with inciting Africans to go on strike. He used his time in court to make political speeches which he knew would be conveyed not merely to his own people, but across the world. And at the famous Rivonia Trial in 1963 he spoke for four hours in his own defence. "The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy...It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live..." Mandela and seven other activists were sentenced to life imprisonment. He served 27 years, most of them on Robben island, off Cape Town.
But Mandela's influence continued to grow. His vision for a just and democratic South Africa - as expressed in his speeches and writings - became widely circulated around the world. And his release became the focus for the international anti-apartheid movement. In 1990, at the age of 71, he was released from prison and made a dignified return to the political arena. In 1994 his life-long ambition was achieved when South Africa became a country in which blacks and whites had equal political freedom. At his inauguration as President of the new regime in 1994 he said: "Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread and salt for all. The time for the healing of the wounds has come." Through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he has tried to get those responsible for apartheid's atrocities to admit to their past mistakes.
His speeches and writings have been published in a book called The Struggle is My Life and his autobiography called Long Walk to Freedom is also available.
Find out more about the people who made a difference on the HomeBeats: Struggles for Racial Justice CDROM.
In this post 9/11 world, there is much for us Americans to learn from others who have been victimized. "Bodhisattva" is a Buddhist term for "compassionate being."
Nelson Mandela makes a return visit to his cell on Robben Island. Jürgen Schadeberg. 1994
I never could have done it
I'd be filled with too much rage
I'd extract a pint of blood
For each trapped in that cage
I'd tell it all to Oprah
Scream it night and day
"Those dirty bastards raped my soul,
There's gonna be some kind of hell to pay."
Revenge would be the fashion
You breathe in the pain of the world
And you breath out compassion
Who wouldn't be bitter
For all the whips you tasted
They came begging, "Bail us out"
I'd have spit in their faces
Where'd you find the grace
Refuse your tooth for a tooth
Finally got your freedom
Who could ever give you back your youth
So many presidents
Feed the corporation
You give half your salary
To the children of your nation
In this upside-down kingdom
The fat cat's foiled again
Again the so-called savage
Shames the so-called "civilized man"
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