The Legacy of Nelson Mandela

To avoid a pre-arranged marriage In 1940, a 22-year-old African young man fled ‘The Great Palace’ at Mqhekezweni to Johannesburg.

The biggest of the South African cities gradually started showing him its awkward face demurred with the system of racial segregation. Apartheid firmly spread roots as an official policy of South Africa in 1948 as it was legislated by the ruling National Party then. 

Given the first name Rolihlahla by his parents, the young man later became to be the first black president of South Africa with an English name given to him by one of his teachers Miss Mdingane on the very first day of his school.

She named him Nelson for no reason. Neither did she know that this young man will become an inspiration for millions of African youth later in the history of the country. 

The Afrikaner – descendants from Dutch settlers- dominated National Party after winning the elections in 1948 divided the society into four racial groups namely, black, white, coloured and Indian. Lines were drawn for residential settlements and other public services and activities.

In what is called as one of the largest mass removals in history, nearly 3.5 million people were relocated from their homes in a period of over two decades. The black people were ripped off their rights including citizenry, participation in government, health care etc. 

Nelson Mandela has always been a man of revolutionary ideas. He was expelled from the University of Fort Hare along with a few other students during the end of his first year for protesting against the quality of food.

While attending Witwatersrand University for law, he became an active member of the African National Congress party and spearheaded the revolution against apartheid policies in the country.

Being actively participated in politics, he failed in his final year thrice and was not awarded a degree.  But his academic failure couldn’t stop him from becoming a progressive leader in the ANC Youth League.

He advocated boycotts and strikes against the government practices giving a radical approach for the fight against apartheid. He was also inspired by the nonviolent protests led by Mahatma Gandhi in India, which Mandela thought as a pragmatic way to fight authority.

His ideologies have vacillated during the course of his active political career. In 1955, he realized that armed protests alone can be the way to resist an armed government, after a failed non-violent attempt to stop the demolition of a black suburb of Johannesburg.

Hence he co-founded the armed movement of ANC, ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe’ to fight against the apartheid government.

He justified the decision by saying, “It would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force.

It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle”. 

In 1947 he didn’t agree to the idea of co-operating with the communists in the fight against the government as he believed that the ideology of communism is so un-African.

Later he had to come to a better understanding of the ideology and get inspired by the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and other communist leaders. 

Thus he has been a leader who evolved with times and understood the importance of being flexible in approach to suit the situation and keep the fight going.

He was headstrong about the ultimate cause of the entire protest rather than projecting his ideologies as the prime principles of action.

He was seen as a potential threat by the ruling government and hence was banned from appearing in public meetings and talking to more than one person at a time and hence he had to go live underground for some years, which made him a much more revolutionary figure among the youth. 

Mandela narrowly escaped a capital punishment in the Rivonia trial, which got him life imprisonment for the charges of treason, conspiracy and sabotage.

During his 27 years behind the bars, he was given little privileges than other white prisoners. He managed to earn the University of London’s bachelor law degree during the imprisonment.

As the fight against the racist regime intensified, the release of Mandela became a campaign among the protestors that gained international support when the government killed student protesters in the city of Soweto.

Due to the international pressure the government agreed to release Mandela.  After his release he became the leader of ANC and had negotiations- putting an end to apartheid- with the government led by F.W. de Klerk- both later won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their talks and efforts.

During the multiracial election in 1994, 22 million South Africans turned out to the ballot giving an emphatic win for Mandela’s ANC making him the first black president of South Africa.

Image Source: NYT

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