On June 12, 1964, Nelson Mandela received a life sentence for committing sabotage against South Africa’s racist apartheid government, avoiding a possible death sentence.
His political career had started in 1944 when he joined the African National Congress (ANC), an organization dedicated to protesting the South African government's policy of apartheid, and racist segregation. and he participated in the resistance against the then government¹s apartheid policy.. Apartheid cruelly and forcibly separated people, and had a fearsome state apparatus to punish those who fought against it. Racist laws were created to enforce a racially separate and unequal social order. The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, for instance, imposed segregation on all public facilities, including post offices, beaches, stadiums, parks, toilets, and cemeteries, and buses and trains as well.
The Defiance Campaign in 1952 was the first large-scale, multi-racial political mobilization against apartheid laws under a common leadership – by the African National Congress, South African Indian Congress, and the Coloured People’s Congress. More than 8,000 trained volunteers went to jail for 'defying unjust laws.’ Volunteers were jailed for failing to carry passes, violating curfew, and entering locations and public facilities designated for one race only.
In early 1953, the Government imposed stiff penalties for protesting against discriminatory laws, including heavy fines and prison sentences of up to five years. It then enacted the Public Safety Act, allowing for the declaration of a State of Emergency to override existing laws and oversight by courts. Although the Defiance Campaign did not achieve its goals, it demonstrated large-scale and growing opposition to apartheid. Furthermore, the use of non-violent civil disobedience was part of an important international tradition, from the passive resistance campaigns started by Gandhi in South Africa continuing to the independence movement in India two decades before, to sit-ins and other non-violent protests in the United States civil rights movement .Mandela was arrested in 1956 on treason charges, but was acquitted.
The ANC was banned by the government in 1960, following the Sharpeville massacre. In 1961, the ANC executive approved Mandela's idea of using violent tactics and encouraged members who wished to involve themselves in Mandela's campaign. Shortly after this,Nelson Mandela founded with others Umkhonto we Sizwe , the armed wing of the ANC, ( abbreviated as MK, meaning "Spear of the Nation" ) believing that non-violent measures would not be successful, and was named its leader. Beginning on Dec. 16, 1961, with Mandela as its commander in chief, they launched bombing attacks on government targets and made plans for guerilla warfare.
Mandela was forced underground “adopting a number of disguises—sometimes a labourer, other times as a chauffeur. The press dubbed him ‘the Black Pimpernel’ because of his ability to evade police.”
Mandela was subsequently arrested on Aug. 5, 1962, and sentenced to five years in prison for inciting a workers’ strike in 1961. A year later, in July 1963, the government launched a raid on the Lilliesleaf farm in Rivonia, which had been used as an ANC hideout. It arrested 19 ANC leaders and discovered documents describing MK’s plans for attacks and guerilla warfare.
The government charged 11 ANC leaders, including Mandela, with crimes under the 1962 Sabotage Act. At the Rivonia Trial, Mandela chose not to take the witness stand, instead making a long statement from the dock on April 20, 1964. In it, he explained the history and motives on the ANC and MK, admitting to many of the charges against him and defending his use of violence.
He concluded, “ "I do not deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation and oppression of my people by the whites. 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.”
Mandela was found guilty on four charges of sabotage on June 11.His co-accused included: Walter Sisulu, Dennis Goldberg, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Mosoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni - all ANC officials and Ahmed Kathrada, the former leader of the South African Indian Congress. Lawyer for the defendants, Harold Hansen QC said: "These accused represent the struggle of their people for equal rights. Their views represent the struggle of the African people for the attainment of equal rights for all races in this country."
The following day, he and seven of his co-defendents were sentenced to life imprisonment avoiding the death sentence. Mandela and the other six non-white defendants were sent to the prison on Robben Island, a former leper colony located off the coast of Cape Town. Nelson Mandela and his comrades were effectively jailed for leading the liberation movement against apartheid , a system of white rule which they considered evil.,and for their stance on the human right to live in freedom and end oppression to black South Africans..
On the notorious Robben Island, Mandela lived in a tiny cell, received meager rations and performed hard labor in a lime quarry.Mandela’s prisoner number was 46664, the prisoners were never referred to by their names, but rather by their numbers .In South Africa at the time It was forbidden to quote him or publish his photo, yet he and other jailed members of his banned African National Congress were able to smuggle out messages of guidance to the anti-apartheid movement.
Meanwhile outside thousands died in the decades-long struggle against apartheid, which deprived the black majority of the vote, the right to choose where to live and other basic freedoms.
Yet Robben Island would became the crucible which transformed him,through his intelligence, charm and dignified defiance, Mandela eventually bent even the most brutal prison officials to his will, assumed leadership over his jailed comrades and became the master of his own prison. He would be come a symbol of hope and defiance not only in South Africa but across the world.
In the 1980s, exiled ANC leader Oliver Tambo, Mandela’s former law partner, led an international movement to free Mandela. Many countries imposed sanctions on South Africa for its apartheid policies. Conservative Prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who Mandela thankfully outlived, denounced Mandela’s ANC as a “typical terrorist organization”.
David Cameron a later Conservative leader and PM himself accepted an all expenses paid trip to South Africa while Nelson Mandela was still in prison while he was a researcher for the Conservative Research Department , which was funded by an firm that lobbied against the imposition of sanctions against the regime. I remember to when I was at college Conservative party members, who would proudly flaunt there ' Hang Nelson Mandela' badges. When the Tory's were displaying which side of human rights they were on, the future labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn was at the time a prominent anti apartheid activist ,a staunch opponent of the Apartheid regime and who was out on the streets marching and prepared to get arrested for the end of apartheid in South Africa and calling for the release of Nelson Mandela.
I along with many others at the time joined the anti apartheid movement, pressuring our Governments for his release, and for the end of apartheid, calling for sanctions against what for many of us saw at the time was a fascist state.The apartheid government, was denounced globally for its campaign of beatings, assassinations and other violent attacks on opponents and its oppressive treatment of its people. United Nations resolutions began to call for the release of "Nelson Mandela and all other political prisoners." By the mid-1980s South Africa was becoming increasingly isolated, with the UN supporting sporting and cultural sanctions and many western companies spurred to withdraw from the country by the efforts of anti-apartheid campaigners.
In 1980 a new campaign for Mandela’s release was initiated inside South Africa by the Sunday Post newspaper. In the 1980s Mandela received an avalanche of honours from all over the world, especially in Britain. In 1981 Glasgow City Council was the first of nine British local authorities to make Mandela a freeman of their city. Streets, gardens and buildings were named in Mandela’s honour. Over 20,000 mayors from cities on every continent signed a declaration calling for his release. And how can I forget the seminal song "Free Nelson Mandela" which was released in 1984 by the Coventry band the Special AKA, which became a focal rallying call.
Free Nelson Mandela - Special AKA
In 1985, President PW Botha offered to release him, who had been moved to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town, on the condition that he renounced violence. Mandela defiantly refused, saying, “Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Only free men can negotiate.”
The Anti Apartheid Movement launched the ‘Nelson Mandela: Freedom at 70’ campaign at a concert in Wembley Stadium in 1988. Rock stars played to a capacity audience and the concert was broadcast by the BBC to over 60 countries.
Though not entirely without controversy.In Britain, members of the ruling Conservative Party proposed a motion in parliament criticising the BBC for carrying an event that “gave publicity to a movement that encourages the African National Congress in its terrorist activities”. Next day 25 freedom marchers set off from Glasgow for London, where they arrived on the eve of Mandela’s birthday. A quarter of a million people gathered in Hyde Park to hear Bishop Desmond Tutu call for Mandela’s release. On 18 July a special service was held in St James’s Piccadilly and thousands of cards were delivered to South Africa House.F.W. de Klerk became president in 1989 and began to dismantle the policies of apartheid and release the ANC prisoners. On Feb. 12, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison.
He was named president of the ANC. In April he came to London, where he was welcomed at a second Wembley concert. He thanked the people of Britain and said the support he had received from the Anti-Apartheid Movement was ‘a source of real inspiration’.
Mandela had become an icon of the freedom struggle. His release unleashed a wave of support for the ANC and heralded the beginning of the negotiations which led to a free and democratic South Africa.and in 1993 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The following year, the ANC emerged victorious in South Africa’s first democratic elections with universal suffrage. Mandela was named the first President of post apartheid South Africa.
He used his position to stand with other oppressed people speaking out on behalf of the Palestinian people expressing his support for a two state solution, while being adamant that Israel must leave the West Bank, Gaza and Syria’s Golan Heights.Speaking at the International Solidarity Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People event in Pretoria in 1997, Mandela declaimed: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.. Yes, all of us need to do more in supporting the struggle of the people of Palestine for self-determination.” In 1999, he toured the Middle East, visiting Palestine. In Gaza he closely identified the South African struggle for freedom and liberation with the Palestinian struggle: “The histories of our two peoples, Palestinian and South African, correspond in such painful and poignant ways, that I intensely feel myself being at home amongst compatriots … The long-standing fraternal bonds between our two liberation movements are now translating into the relations between two governments.”It is worth pointing out that during apartheid era South Africa, Israel regularly traded arms and security information with the regime.
He also criticised US President George W Bush over Iraq, saying the sole reason for a possible US-led attack would be to gain control of Iraqi oil. The US stance on Iraq is "arrogant" and would cause "a holocaust", he said at the time. He also said UK Prime Minister Tony Blair - who supported Washington over Iraq - was in fact the "US foreign minister",He accused both the US and UK governments of undermining the United Nations. "Why does the United States behave so arrogantly?" Mr Mandela asked. "Their friend Israel has got weapons of mass destruction but because it's their ally they won't ask the United Nations to get rid of them. He also said war "would be devastating not just to Iraq but also to the whole of the Middle East and to other countries of the world". . "They just want the oil," Mr Mandela went on. "We must expose this as much as possible."
Nelson Mandela not only used his voice to protest against injustices at home, but attacked injustices across the world too.
In 2002 Mandela reiterated his opposition to acts of terror, and reminded readers of how appalled he had been by the barbarism of the 9/11 attacks, but argued that those responsible for bringing down the Twin Towers must be “apprehended and brought to trial without inflicting suffering on innocent people”.
On December 5, 2013, the world was shocked and saddened by the transition of Tata Madiba Rohlihahla Mandela at the age of 95. Although Madiba had been ill for many months and his condition required round-the-clock medical attention, his passing was nonetheless a great loss to the people of South Africa, the African continent, and indeed to the world.
Mandela was eulogized by people throughout the world. Inside South Africa an extended period of mourning was declared and the former African National Congress (ANC) leader and first president of a non-racial South African state was given a state funeral.
Memorial services were held throughout South Africa. Millions poured into streets and stadiums around the country to sing the praises of their leader who had spent twenty seven years in prison for his believe that the African people should be liberated from national oppression and economic exploitation. A true revolutionary never dies, for anyone who risks his own life for the oppressed and the poor, will live as long as there are hopeless people in this world. A man who was willing to die for his cause, who spent 27 years in jail for his beliefs and refused to leave until better conditions for his country were met. He made his enemies respect him because of his bravery and loyalty, and didn’t prosecute the same people who abused him when he had the power to do so. Instead, he forgave them. Though his status was larger than life he lived humbly as a citizen in the country he loved. His example taught us the importance of forgiveness and the true meaning of representing the people with honor and loyalty. He showed us that one person’s actions can have an extraordinary effect on this world, and our world today surely needs more like Mandela!
Nelson Mandela's spirit could never die, and his light will never fade. His sacrifice, courage and philosophy will be an example for anyone who wants to impact the world in a positive way.Nelson Mandela Day which is marked every year on July 16th, the day of Mandela's birthday not only celebrates Nelson Mandela’s life, but it is also a global call to action for people to recognize their ability to have a positive effect on others around them. It marks Nelson Mandela’s contribution to peace through his active involvement in resolving conflicts, promoting human rights, international democracy and reconciliation, and in addressing racial issues.