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Nelson Mandela

Political Activist - Intermediate




R olihlahla Mandela, more well-known as Nelson Mandela, was an activist and revolutionary who helped bring an end to decades of injustice and racial segregation in South Africa. He was born on July 18, 1918, into a wealthy family. As one of the chief’s children, he would have inherited much of his father’s wealth, and influence had he remained in his village. Instead, Mandela moved to Johannesburg and became a prominent political figure, the symbol of the liberation movement and eventually the first black president of South Africa.

In 1910 four previously independent British colonies joined to form the Union of South Africa. Nelson Mandela grew up in this colonial setting where the white minority ruled, and the indigenous peoples were denied basic human rights His ambition and strong sense of justice led him to join the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944, and in 1948 he began his long and arduous battle against the apartheid policies of the ruling Afrikaners National Party.

 In 1956 Mandela was tried for treason as one of the people behind the Freedom Charter, a document demanding basic rights for the people of South Africa, but was finally acquitted in 1961. In 1960, police stormed a peaceful protest in the town of Sharpeville which ended in the death of 69 African protesters. According to Mandela, the Treason Trial, the Sharpeville Massacre, as well as the subsequent banning of the ANC were proof that the anti-apartheid movement could no longer hope to fight the ruling regime through non-violent protests. Thus in 1961 Mandela founded the military wing of the ANC called Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), or MK.

In December that year, the MK planned to sabotage the government by attacking government offices, a power station, and communication lines. These acts resulted in the arrests of Mandela and his fellow Umkhonto we Sizwe leaders in 1963. What ensued was another long trial in which Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. However, even incarceration failed to stop him from continuing his fight against the racist government. In fact, throughout the 27 years he spent in prison, Mandela became the most famous political prisoner in the world and remained the symbol of the anti-apartheid movement. When he was finally released in 1990, Mandela led the ANC’s negotiations with the ruling Nationalist Party to finally put an end to the apartheid government and in 1993 he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. The following year he became the first black president of South Africa. 

After serving one term as president, Mandela stepped down from his position, but he continued to serve as an advocate of justice, freedom and human rights until the day he died. He passed away on December 5, 2013, but he has not been forgotten. Today his face can be seen on South African bills, a stadium in South Africa carries his name, and July 18 was proclaimed “Nelson Mandela International Day” in honor of this great man.

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