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'Prepared to Die' for Equal Society: Nelson Mandela's Journey of Struggle, Sacrifice, and Triumph

© AFP 2023 ALEXANDER JOEA picture taken on February 11, 1990 shows Nelson Mandela (C) and his then-wife anti-apartheid campaigner Winnie raising their fists and saluting cheering crowd upon Mandela's release from the Victor Verster prison near Paarl.
A picture taken on February 11, 1990 shows Nelson Mandela (C) and his then-wife anti-apartheid campaigner Winnie raising their fists and saluting cheering crowd upon Mandela's release from the Victor Verster prison near Paarl. - Sputnik Africa, 1920, 12.06.2023
Nelson Mandela's life was a remarkable journey of struggle, sacrifice, resilience and triumph. He dedicated his life to the cause of freedom and justice for all people, especially those oppressed in his own country. He endured decades of imprisonment and persecution, but never gave up his vision of a democratic and post-racial South Africa.
Nelson Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid activist and politician who served as the first black head of state and the first democratically elected president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential and inspiring leaders of the 20th century who fought for racial justice, democracy, and human rights in his country and beyond.
Monday, June 12, 2023, marks 59 years since Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. He was sent to a notorious prison island off the coast of Cape Town, called Robben Island, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.
To mark the occasion, Sputnik Africa takes a closer look at some of the key events and milestones in his life, including his imprisonment, his release after nearly three decades, the Nobel Peace Prize, his presidency, the transfer of power and the events that followed until his death.

Birth and Early Childhood

Born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918, in the village of Mvezo in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, Nelson Mandela belonged to the Madiba clan of the Xhosa-speaking Thembu people.
His father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, was a chief and counselor to the Thembu king. His mother, Nosekeni Fanny, was the third of his father's four wives. He was given the name Nelson by his teacher at his primary school in the village of Qunu, following the custom of giving Christian names to African children.

University Life

In 1939, Mandela enrolled at the University College of Fort Hare, the only residential university for blacks in South Africa at the time. He studied for a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in English and anthropology.
During his university life, Mandela became involved in student politics, joining the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL), which was officially founded in 1944. Earlier, in 1940, he was elected to the Student Representative Council (SRC), but was expelled from the university after participating in a boycott over the quality of food and the lack of black student representation.
He left Fort Hare without graduating, but later resumed his studies through correspondence with the University of South Africa (UNISA) and graduated in 1943.

1942 – Joining the African National Congress (ANC)

Mandela moved to Johannesburg in 1941, where he worked as a mine safety officer and later as a clerk in a law firm. He met Walter Sisulu, a prominent African National Congress activist and leader, who became his mentor and friend. Sisulu introduced him to other members of the ANC, one of Africa's oldest liberation movements, and encouraged him to join the organization.
Mandela became a member of the ANC in 1942 and soon rose to prominence within its ranks. He also met and married his first wife, Evelyn Mase, a nurse and cousin of Sisulu, in 1944. They had four children but divorced in 1958.

1952 – Leading Defiance Campaign Against Apartheid Laws

In 1948, the National Party came to power in South Africa and implemented a system of racial segregation and discrimination known as apartheid, which denied political and civil rights to non-whites. The ANC opposed apartheid and launched various campaigns to challenge its legitimacy and mobilize resistance among the oppressed masses.
Anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela raises clenched fist, arriving at the human rainbow music concert organised by local artists to celebrate ANC leader's release from 27 years of imprisonment last 11 February, at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg, on March 17, 1990. - Sputnik Africa, 1920, 05.12.2022
Nelson Mandela's Struggle and His Legacy for South Africa
One of these campaigns was the Defiance Campaign, which began in 1952 and called on people to deliberately break unjust laws that restricted their movement, employment, residence and education. Mandela was one of the leaders of this campaign, traveling across the country to organize mass protests and rallies. He was also one of the first volunteers to be arrested for defying a ban on public assembly.

1962 – Founding Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) & Treason Trial

After the Defiance Campaign, Mandela continued to play a leading role in several anti-apartheid initiatives, including the Treason Trial, in which he and other activists were charged with treason for their involvement in these activities.
He also became increasingly convinced that nonviolent resistance alone was not enough to overthrow apartheid, and that armed struggle was also necessary. He helped found Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), or Spear of the Nation, the military wing of the ANC that carried out sabotage attacks against government targets.

In 1962, Mandela secretly left South Africa to seek support and training for MK from other African countries and the Soviet Union.

Upon his return, he was arrested and sentenced on November 7, 1962, by the Pretoria Magistrates Court to five years in prison for inciting workers to strike and leaving the country illegally.

June 12, 1964 – Rivonia Trial & Life Imprisonment Sentence

While in prison over leaving South Africa illegally, Mandela was charged again, along with six other MK leaders, with sabotage, conspiracy, and treason in what became known as the Rivonia Trial.

It was during this trial that he delivered his famous speech from the dock, declaring that he was "prepared to die" for his ideals of a free and equal society.

He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment on June 12, 1964. He was sent to Robben Island, a notorious prison island off the coast of Cape Town, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.

1973, 1985 – Mandela Rejects Two Conditional Offers of Release

While in prison, Mandela became a symbol of resistance and hope for millions of people suffering under apartheid. He also maintained contact and influence with the ANC leadership and other political prisoners through smuggled letters and messages.

Mandela also continued his studies, earning a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of London in 1989.

A supporter waves an ANC flag during Nelson Mandela's inauguration 10 May 1994 at the Union Buildings in Pretoria as South Africa's first democratically elected president - Sputnik Africa, 1920, 10.05.2023
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Despite his isolation and hardship, Mandela refused to compromise his principles or accept conditional offers of release from the government. In 1973, he rejected an offer to be released if he agreed to settle in one of apartheid's so-called homelands,Transkei, a nominally independent state created by the apartheid regime for the Xhosa people (from 1976 to 1994).
In 1985, Mandela rejected another offer to be released if he renounced violence as a means of achieving political change. He stated that only free men could negotiate and that the ANC could not abandon its commitment to armed struggle while the government continued to use violence against its people.

US Designates Mandela's ANC as 'Notorious Terrorist Group'

The ANC and its allies faced not only domestic repression, but also international hostility and isolation from many Western countries that supported or tolerated the apartheid regime.
In August 1988, during the administration of US President George H. W. Bush, the US Department of Defense published a report entitled "Terrorist Group Profiles", which included the ANC among 52 of the "world's most notorious terrorist groups".
The report accused the ANC of waging "urban guerrilla warfare" and "armed propaganda" against the white minority South African government. It also claimed that the ANC had received support and training from the Soviet Union, Cuba, Libya, and other countries.
The report was widely criticized by anti-apartheid activists and human rights groups, who argued that it distorted the reality of the struggle against apartheid and ignored the legitimate grievances and aspirations of the oppressed majority in South Africa.

Mandela's Release From Prison

In the late 1980s, South Africa's government faced pressure to end apartheid and become a democracy. The ANC fought harder against the regime, while the world cut off its trade and support.
Some leaders in the regime wanted to change and talk to the opposition. One of them was F.W. de Klerk, who became president in 1989 and began to roll back some of the apartheid laws.

President de Klerk also met secretly with Mandela and other ANC leaders to plan a new government. On February 11, 1990, Mandela was released from prison after 27 years behind bars.

Mandela walked out with his second wife, Winnie, and spoke to his cheering fans in Cape Town. He said he wanted peace, but he also wanted to end apartheid. His release changed South Africa's history and led to negotiations that would make the country a democracy.

1993 – Mandela and de Klerk Share Nobel Peace Prize

Mandela and de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 15, 1993, for peacefully transitioning South Africa out of apartheid and towards democracy. The Nobel Committee praised them for their courage, vision, and statesmanship in choosing dialogue and compromise over violence.
They accepted the prize in Oslo, Norway, expressing gratitude, humility, and hope for the future of their country and continent while reaffirming a commitment to work together to implement agreements and prepare for the first democratic elections in South Africa.

Mandela Inaugurated as South Africa's First Black President

Mandela was sworn in as the president of South Africa on May 10, 1994, at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, in a historic ceremony attended by hundreds of thousands of people and hundreds of dignitaries from around the world.
He became the head of the Government of National Unity, which included members of the ANC, the National Party and the Inkatha Freedom Party.
A copy of a postal stamp with a portrait of Nelson Mandela, launched at the Mandela Foundation for the 24th anniversary of his release from prison, in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014.  When Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, South Africa's post office issued a stamp with his image. It released another when Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president in the following year. Then one more when the former president turned 90 in 2008. The postal service issued a fourth commemorative stamp with a portrait of Mandela on Tuesday, the 24th anniversary of his release from prison during white minority rule. He died Dec. 5 at the age of 95.  - Sputnik Africa, 1920, 11.05.2023
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He appointed de Klerk as his first deputy president and his fellow ANC member Thabo Mbeki as his second deputy president. He also appointed an inclusive cabinet that reflected the country's racial, ethnic and political diversity

Mandela's presidency was marked by his efforts to foster national reconciliation, promote human rights, strengthen democracy, improve social services, reform the economy, and advance the country's role in regional and international affairs. After serving one term as president, Mandela handed over power to his deputy and successor, Thabo Mbeki, on June 14, 1999.

July 2008 – Mandela & ANC Removed From US Terrorism List

Since the late 1980s, and despite Mandela's release from prison, his election as president, his Nobel Peace Prize, and his global stature as a peacemaker and statesman, he and his party, the ANC, remained on the US terrorism watch list until 2008.
This was widely seen as an anomaly and an insult by many people around the world, who regarded Mandela and the ANC as freedom fighters and heroes.
In July 2008, after years of lobbying and campaigning by various groups and individuals, including members of Congress and former US presidents, President George W. Bush Jr signed a bill that removed Mandela and the ANC from the US terrorism watch list. The bill also granted Mandela a waiver to enter the US without a visa.

December 5, 2013 — Mandela Dies at Age of 95

Mandela died at his home in Johannesburg on December 5, 2013, after a long illness. He was 95 years old. His death was announced by South African President Jacob Zuma in a televised address to the nation.

A 10-day national mourning period was declared and all flags were flown at half-mast until after Mandela's funeral.

Mandela's death sparked an outpouring of grief, tributes and condolences from millions of people across South Africa and around the world. He was hailed as a global icon of freedom, justice, dignity and humanity. He was also remembered as a humble, compassionate and generous person who touched many lives with his words and deeds.
His state funeral was held on December 15, 2013, in Qunu, his ancestral village in the Eastern Cape province. It was attended by about 4,500 guests, including heads of state and government, royalty, celebrities and dignitaries from various countries and organizations. It was also watched by millions of people on television and online.