Nelson Mandela: Anti-apartheid champion
Born on July 18,1918 to Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa Mandela, a local chief and councillor to the monarch, baby Nelson was named Rolihlahla, which means ‘troublemaker’ in Xhosa, his family’s native tongue. Having grown up with two sisters, Mandela’s early life was spent learning their traditions. He grew up under the guidance of the acting chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo and his wife. It was a time when South Africa underwent colonial rule and the doctrine of apartheid (discrimination on grounds of race).
In 1939, Mandela enrolled in the University of Fort Hare, where he became active in the activities of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC). At the end of his first year, his involvement in an SRC boycott over the quality of food led to suspension due to which he was unable to complete his degree. Around 1941, he joined a law firm as a clerk. In 1943, Mandela enrolled as a law student at the University of Witwatersrand.
As the lone black student there, he had a first-hand experience of racist treatment. Along with other young leaders, he met Anton Lembede in 1943, who advocated the formation of the African National Congress Party Youth League (ANCYL) and embraced the idea that “black Africans should be independent in their struggle for political self-determination”.
In 1943, Mandela joined a delegation that approached African National Congress (ANC) president AB Xuma to form a wing to mobilise black youth. In 1944, ANCYL was founded and Mandela became an executive committee member. In 1947, he was elevated as the ANCYL president.
After the 1948 general election, the party led by Daniel Francois Malan came to power. Malan’s outfit joined hands with the Afrikaner Party to form the National Party which introduced fresh apartheid legislation.
Mandela and his cadres began advocating direct opposition of apartheid through strikes and boycotts. In 1952, ANC began the Defiance Campaign (multi-racial mobilisation against apartheid laws) with Indians and other minorities. On June 22, 1952, Mandela addressed 10,000 people in Durban, where he was arrested. He had emerged as one of the most popular leaders. He was arrested several times more on charges of seditious activities.
In 1961, Mandela co-founded the ANC’s militant wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, which led to his arrest and a life term sentence in 1962. After serving for 27 years in three jails, Mandela was released in 1990 in the wake of international pressure on President FW de Klerk.
In 1994, the country’s first multiracial general election saw the ANC narrowly miss two-thirds majority. He became South Africa’s first black president from 1994 to 1999.
More than 250 awards from across the world were conferred on the champion of inter-racial harmony including the Nobel Peace Prize, Bharat Ratna — India’s highest civilian honour, US Presidential Medal of Freedom, Russia’s Lenin Peace Prize and Membership in the Queen’s Order of Merit.