Nelson Mandela

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Preword

Nelson Mandela was born in 1918. His tribal name, "Rolihalah," means "shaker of trees," or "troublemaker." The name Nelson came courtesy of a school teacher who insisted he have a Christian name.

A member of the Madiba clan, Mandela was raised amongst royalty. When he was 12 years old, his father died, but his guardian, the tribal king, ensured he received the best education.


1930s - Racial Segregation

When he was 23 years old, Mandela defied the king and fled to Johannesburg. In that city he confronted the ruthless system of apartheid for the first time. Under those laws, brutally enforced by South Africa's whites, blacks could not vote, move through the country without showing a passbook, or own property.



1940s - 1950s The Fight Begins

During the 1940's, Mandela became a lawyer and a partner with the country's first black law firm. Mandela also joined the African National Congress—or the ANC—to fight for peaceful change. He married Evelyn Ntoko and had three children. His bravery, charisma, and physical strength made him greatly admired. However, his commitment to the ANC quickly took over his life — so much so, it destroyed his first marriage.

In 1958, he married a social worker, Nomzamo "Winnie" Madikizela, and they had two children.

In 1960, security forces viciously attacked a peaceful demonstration killing 69 black protesters — this became known as the Sharpeville Massacre. Following this brutal attack, the ANC was outlawed by the government. Fearing for his life, Mandela was forced to leave his family and go underground.

I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the idea of a democratic and a free society. If need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. —Nelson Mandela


1960s Time in Prison

After a series of arrests and charges of attempting to overthrow the government, Mandela and seven comrades were convicted of sabotage and treason. Just 46 years old, Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island—the Alcatraz of South Africa. From the beginning, Nelson refused to let the guards break his spirit.

You must fight the battle for dignity. We put our foot down and insisted on being respected. —Nelson Mandela


Over the Next Two Decades
While in prison, Mandela put aside his own hatred and began building mutually respectful relationships with prison guards, wardens, and government officials — many of whom belonged to other organizations which the ANC considered the "enemy."

I was in the company of great men. Some of them more qualified, more talented than I am. To sit down with them, to exchange views was one of the most revealing experiences I have. It enriched your own life. It fortified your morality. It gave you courage to do better than your best. — Nelson Mandela

Throughout his incarceration, his wife, Winnie Mandela, fought to raise global awareness of apartheid through her husband's imprisonment.


1980s Free at Last

In the late 1980's, the government responded to international pressure. February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela walked free for the first time in 27 years.


1990s From Civil Unrest to Historical Victory

Upon Mandela's release from prison, the white minority resisted calls for the country's first open election and violence erupted. Rivalries between black political parties exploded into vicious fighting. Soon, South Africa stood on the brink of civil war.

Using the force of his moral integrity, Mandela worked to unite his divided country, urging South Africans to seek reconciliation, not revenge. Mandela, along with South African President F.W. de Klerk, received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their joint efforts.

Nelson Mandela continued pushing for true democracy and the right to vote for all. South Africa's first free election would take place April 26, 1994 and Nelson Mandela would run for President. For black South Africans, including Mandela, it was the first time ever they could vote.

In May 1994, after an overwhelming victory, Mandela was inaugurated as the first black president of South Africa. He appointed F.W. de Klerk, his formal rival, one of two vice presidents. Nelson Mandela made clear that he would lead a racially mixed government to reconciliation.

Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one or another. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement. Let freedom reign. God bless South Africa. —Nelson Mandela, Inaguration Speech, Pretoria, May 10, 1994

During this time of political triumph, Mandela's personal life went through a series of changes — Mandela and Winnie formally divorced in 1996.

Nelson Mandela married Graca Machel, the widow of Mozambique's president — their vows were her present to him on his 80th birthday in 1998.

In 1999 Nelson Mandela stepped down from his role as president and has spent the last year touring the world as a global statesman.

Destroying the Myth

When Mandela was released from prison, his first task was to destroy the myth that he was something other than an ordinary human being.
"That was one of the things that worried me - to be raised to the position of a semi-god - because then you are no longer a human being. I wanted to be known as Mandela, a man with weaknesses, some of which are fundamental, and a man who is committed, but never the less, sometimes he fails to live up to expectations."
The Power of the Right to Vote
Imagine voting for the first time at age 78. Nelson Mandela says casting one vote made him feel like a complete man.
"We all felt on top of the world. It was a justification for the sacrifices which had been made by our people since the arrival of whites in this country in 1652."

A Life without Bitterness

"How can I not be bitter?"
"When I think about the past, the types of things they did, I feel angry, but then again that is my feeling. The brain always dominates, says, as I have pointed out, you have a limited time to stay on Earth. You must try and use that period to transform your country into what you desire it to be."

A Lesson in Humility

Nelson Mandela repeatedly attributes his role in ending Apartheid as part of a collective effort. After 3 years in office, he turned over his duties to the de-facto president.
"It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership."

"As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself... Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility."

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