“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. ” – Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela has long been a worldwide inspirational icon. He is considered a hero for standing up against apartheid and serving 26 years in prison for fighting for what he believed was right. Born on July 18th, 1918, in South Africa, 2009 begins a year-long celebration of his 91st Year.
He was the son of a local tribal leader of the Tembu tribe. As a youngster Nelson, took part in the activities and initiation ceremonies of his local tribe. However, unlike his father Nelson Mandela gained a full education. Nelson was a good student and qualified with a law degree in 1942. During his time at University Nelson Mandela became increasingly aware of the racial inequality and injustice faced by non white people. In 1944, he decided to join the ANC and actively take part in the struggle against apartheid.
As one of the few qualified lawyers, Nelson Mandela was in great demand; also his commitment to the cause saw him promoted through the ranks of the ANC. In 1956, Nelson Mandela, along with several other members of the ANC were arrested and charged with treason. After a lengthy and protracted court case the defendants were finally acquitted in 1961. However, with the ANC now banned, Nelson Mandela suggested an active armed resistance to the apartheid regime. This led to the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe, which would act as a guerrilla resistance movement. Receiving training in other African countries, the Umkhonto we Sizwe took part in active sabotage.
In 1963, Mandela was again arrested and put on trial for treason. This time the state succeeded in convicting of plotting to overthrow the government. However, the case received considerable international attention and the apartheid regime of South Africa became under the glare of the international community.
Mandela’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and from 1964 –1981 he was incarcerated at Robben Island Prison, off Cape Town. In prison the conditions were sparse; however, Mandela was with many other political prisoners and there was a strong bond of friendship which helped to make more bearable prison conditions. Also, in prison Nelson Mandela was highly disciplined, he would try and study and take part in exercise every day. He later said these years of prison were a period of great learning, even if painful.
During his time in prison, Mandela became increasingly well known throughout the world. Mandela became the best known black leader and opposition to the apartheid regime. Largely unbeknown to Mandela, his continued imprisonment led to world wide pressure for his release.From the mid 1980s, the apartheid regime increasingly began to negotiate with the ANC and Mandela in particular. On many occasions, Mandela was offered a conditional freedom. However, he always refused wishing to put the political ideals of the ANC above his own freedom.
Eventually Nelson Mandela was released on February 11, 1990. His release was symbolic of the impending end of apartheid. Following his release there followed protracted negotiations, (often interspersed with tribal violence). However, eventually in April 1994, South Africa had its first full and fair elections. Nelson Mandela became the first President of the new South Africa.
As President, he sought to heal the rifts of the past. Despite being mistreated he was magnanimous in his dealing with his oppressors. His forgiving and tolerant attitude gained the respect of the whole South African nation and considerably eased the transition to a full democracy.
Nelson Mandela retired from the Presidency in 1999, to be succeeded by Thabo Mbeki. Recently ill health has curtailed his public life. Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 (jointly with F W De Klerk)
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