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This Day in African History – Nelson Mandela Released
By Alistair Boddy-Evans, About.com Guide February 11, 2010
After imprisonment for 27 years, Nelson Mandela was finally released by South Africa’s Apartheid regime on 11 February 1990. Mandela walked out of the gates of Victor Verster Prison, Paarl, and was whisked away in a silver BMW to Cape Town where he appeared on the balcony of the City Hall. 50,000 people congregated to hear his address:
“Our struggle has reached a decisive moment. Our march to freedom is irreversible … Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax now would be a mistake which future generations would not forgive.”
Monday, Apr. 13, 1998
By Andre Brink
In a recent television broadcast BBC commentator Brian Walden argued that Nelson Mandela, “perhaps the most generally admired figure of our age, falls short of the giants of the past.” Mandela himself argues that “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.” Clearly, a changing world demands redefinition of old concepts.
In the revolution led by Mandela to transform a model of racial division and oppression into an open democracy, he demonstrated that he didn’t flinch from taking up arms, but his real qualities came to the fore after his time as an activist–during his 27 years in prison and in the eight years since his release, when he had to negotiate the challenge of turning a myth into a man.
Rolihlahla Mandela was born deep in the black homeland of Transkei on July 18, 1918. His first name could be interpreted, prophetically, as “troublemaker.” The Nelson was added later, by a primary school teacher with delusions of imperial splendor. Mandela’s boyhood was peaceful enough, spent on cattle herding and other rural pursuits, until the death of his father landed him in the care of a powerful relative, the acting regent of the Thembu people. But it was only after he left the missionary College of Fort Hare, where he had become involved in student protests against the white colonial rule of the institution, that he set out on the long walk toward personal and national liberation.
Having run away from his guardian to avoid an arranged marriage, he joined a law firm in Johannesburg as an apprentice. Years of daily exposure to the inhumanities of apartheid, where being black reduced one to the status of a nonperson, kindled in him a kind of absurd courage to change the world. It meant that instead of the easy life in a rural setting he’d been brought up for, or even a modest measure of success as a lawyer, his only future certainties would be sacrifice and suffering, with little hope of success in a country in which centuries of colonial rule had concentrated all political and military power, all access to education, and most of the wealth in the hands of the white minority. The classic conditions for a successful revolution were almost wholly absent: the great mass of have-nots had been humbled into docile collusion, the geographic expanse of the country hampered communication and mobility, and the prospects of a race war were not only unrealistic but also horrendous.
In these circumstances Mandela opted for nonviolence as a strategy. He joined the Youth League of the African National Congress and became involved in programs of passive resistance against the laws that forced blacks to carry passes and kept them in a position of permanent servility.
Exasperated, the government mounted a massive treason trial against its main opponents, Mandela among them. It dragged on for five years, until 1961, ending in the acquittal of all 156 accused. But by that time the country had been convulsed by the massacre of peaceful black demonstrators at Sharpeville in March 1960, and the government was intent on crushing all opposition. Most liberation movements, including the A.N.C., were banned. Earning a reputation as the Black Pimpernel, Mandela went underground for more than a year and traveled abroad to enlist support for the A.N.C.
Soon after his return, he was arrested and sentenced to imprisonment on Robben Island for five years; within months practically all the leaders of the A.N.C. were arrested. Mandela was hauled from prison to face with them an almost certain death sentence. His statement from the dock was destined to smolder in the homes and servant quarters, the shacks and shebeens and huts and hovels of the oppressed, and to burn in the conscience of the world: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Without any attempt to find a legal way out, Mandela assumed his full responsibility. This conferred a new status of moral dignity on his leadership, which became evident from the moment he was returned to Robben Island. Even on his first arrival, two years before, he had set an example by refusing to obey an order to jog from the harbor, where the ferry docked, to the prison gates. The warden in charge warned him bluntly that unless he started obeying, he might quite simply be killed and that no one on the mainland would ever be the wiser. Whereupon Mandela quietly retorted, “If you so much as lay a hand on me, I will take you to the highest court in the land, and when I finish with you, you will be as poor as a church mouse.” Amazingly, the warden backed off. “Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose,” Mandela later wrote in notes smuggled out by friends.
His major response to the indignities of the prison was a creative denial of victimhood, expressed most remarkably by a system of self-education, which earned the prison the appellation of “Island University.” As the prisoners left their cells in the morning to toil in the extremes of summer and winter, buffeted by the merciless southeaster or broiled by the African sun (whose glare in the limestone quarry permanently impaired Mandela’s vision), each team was assigned an instructor–in history, economics, politics, philosophy, whatever. Previously barren recreation hours were filled with cultural activities, and Mandela recalls with pride his acting in the role of Creon in Sophocles’ Antigone.
After more than two decades in prison, confident that on some crucial issues a leader must make decisions on his own, Mandela decided on a new approach. And after painstaking preliminaries, the most famous prisoner in the world was escorted, in the greatest secrecy, to the State President’s office to start negotiating not only his own release but also the nation’s transition from apartheid to democracy. On Feb. 2, 1990, President F.W. de Klerk lifted the ban on the A.N.C. and announced Mandela’s imminent release.
Then began the real test. Every inch of the way, Mandela had to win the support of his own followers. More difficult still was the process of allaying white fears. But the patience, the wisdom, the visionary quality Mandela brought to his struggle, and above all the moral integrity with which he set about to unify a divided people, resulted in the country’s first democratic elections and his selection as President.
The road since then has not been easy. Tormented by the scandals that pursued his wife Winnie, from whom he finally parted; plagued by corruption among his followers; dogged by worries about delivering on programs of job creation and housing in a country devastated by white greed, he has become a sadder, wiser man.
In the process he has undeniably made mistakes, based on a stubborn belief in himself. Yet his stature and integrity remain such that these failings tend to enhance rather than diminish his humanity. Camus once said one man’s chains imply that we are all enslaved; Mandela proves through his own example that faith, hope and charity are qualities attainable by humanity as a whole. Through his willingness to walk the road of sacrifice, he has reaffirmed our common potential to move toward a new age.
And he is not deluded by the adulation of the world. Asked to comment on the BBC’s unflattering verdict on his performance as a leader, Mandela said with a smile, “It helps to make you human.”
Andre Brink, a professor at the University of Cape Town, is the author of A Dry White Season
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Nelson Mandela Biography
Full name Nelson Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela AKA ‘Madiba’.
Mandela’s words, “The struggle is my life,” are not to be taken lightly.
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (born 18 July 1918) served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and was the first South African president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Before his presidency, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). In 1962 he was arrested and convicted of sabotage and other charges, and sentenced to life inprison. Mandela served 27 years in prison, spending many of these years on Robben Island. Following his release from prison on 11 February 1990, Mandela led his party in the negotiations that led to multi-racial democracy in 1994. As president from 1994 to 1999, he frequently gave priority to reconciliation.
In South Africa, Mandela is often known as Madiba, his Xhosa clan name; or as tata
Mandela has received more than 250 awards over four decades, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.
Read a full biography on wikipedia
Nelson Mandela Autobiography
Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. Since his triumphant release in 1990 from more than a quarter-century of imprisonment, Mandela has been at the center of the most compelling and inspiring political drama in the world. As president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa’s antiapartheid movement, he was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule. He is revered everywhere as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality.
Long Walk to Freedom is his moving and exhilarating autobiography, a book destined to take its place among the finest memoirs of history’s greatest figures. Here for the first time, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela tells the extraordinary story of his life – an epic of struggle, setback, renewed hope, and ultimate triumph, which has, until now, been virtually unknown to most of the world.
The foster son of a Thembu chief, Mandela was raised in the traditional, tribal culture of his ancestors, but at an early age learned the modern, inescapable reality of what came to be called apartheid, one of the most powerful and effective systems of oppression ever conceived. In classically elegant and engrossing prose, he tells of his early years as an impoverished student and law clerk in Johannesburg, of his slow political awakening, and of his pivotal role in the rebirth of a stagnant ANC and the formation of its Youth League in the 1950s. He describes the struggle to reconcile his political activity with his devotion to his family, the anguished breakup of his first marriage, and the painful separations from his children.
He brings vividly to life the escalating political warfare in the fifties between the ANC and the government, culminating in his dramatic escapades as an underground leader and the notorious Rivonia Trial of 1964, at which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He recounts the surprisingly eventful twenty-seven years in prison and the complex, delicate negotiations that led both to his freedom and to the beginning of the end of apartheid. Finally he provides the ultimate inside account of the unforgettable events since his release that produced at last a free, multiracial democracy in South Africa.
To millions of people around the world, Nelson Mandela stands, as no other living figure does, for the triumph of dignity and hope over despair and hatred, of self-discipline and love over persecution and evil. Long Walk to Freedom embodies that spirit in a book for all time.
Mandela’s autobiography, ‘Long Walk To Freedom’, ends with these words: “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”
The Autobiography Audio Book About Nelson Mandela
Listen to his autobiography Audiobook: Long Walk to Freedom where Nelson Mandela describes his life. You download this audio book online now.
Nelson Mandela Quotes
A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.
After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.
Communists have always played an active role in the fight by colonial countries for their freedom, because the short-term objects of Communism would always correspond with the long-term objects of freedom movements.
Does anybody really think that they didn’t get what they had because they didn’t have the talent or the strength or the endurance or the commitment?
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel, within secure borders.
I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man.
I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.
I dream of the realization of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent. I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses.
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.
If the United States of America or Britain is having elections, they don’t ask for observers from Africa or from Asia. But when we have elections, they want observers.
If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.
In my country we go to prison first and then become President.
It always seems impossible until its done.
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.
Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.
Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.
Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will.
Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.
Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.
There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.
There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.
There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.
There is no such thing as part freedom.
There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.
When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat.
Nelson Mandela Movies
Two biographical movies were made, and the latest, Mandela and de Klerk (1997) (TV), focused on his life’s struggles.
Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony
Interviews, archival footage, and filmed performances highlight the role of music in the South African struggle against apartheid.
Madiba: The Life and Times of Nelson Mandela
“Life & Times: Nelson Mandela” chooses from the many truly extraordinary intimate epiphanies of Mandela’s life: Whether it’s the silent walk with his mother to the Royal Kraal as a nine-year old…or the fiery end to his first marriage…
Nelson Mandela Invictus Trailer
Nelson Mandela, in his first term as the South African President, initiates a unique venture to unite the apartheid-torn land: enlist the national rugby team on a mission to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Nelson Mandela Pictures
Nelson Mandela Timeline
1918 – Born on 18 July 1918 in the little village of Mvezo, in Qunu in southern Transkei, into the royal family of the Tembu, a Xhosa-speaking tribe. He is one of the 13 children of his father’s four wives and the youngest of four boys.
When Mandela is nine his father dies and Mandela’s uncle, the head of his tribe, becomes his guardian.
Mandela is the first of his family to go to school, beginning his primary education when he is seven at a Methodist missionary school, where he is given the name Nelson. His education continues at the Clarkebury School and then the all-British Healdtown High School, a strict Methodist college. It is here that Mandela hears of the African National Congress (ANC) for the first time.
On his matriculation Mandela starts a bachelor of arts degree at the African Native College of Fort Hare but is expelled with Oliver Tambo for participating in a student strike.
1941 – When he is 23 Mandela moves to Soweto on the southwestern outskirts of Johannesburg to avoid an arranged marriage. He works as a nightwatchman at a gold mine. After completing his BA by correspondence, he obtains his articles of clerkship and enrols for a degree in law at the University of South Africa.
Mandela meets Walter Sisulu, an active member of the ANC whorecommends Mandela for employment with a lawyer in Johannesburg. The work, along with loans from Sisulu, enables Mandela to complete his law degree. The two become firm friends.
1944 – Mandela joins the ANC. Together with Tambo and Sisulu he helps found the ANC Youth League. During the year Mandela marries his first wife, Evelyn Mase, a trainee nurse. The couple will have two sons and two daughters, although their first daughter dies aged nine months in 1948 their eldest son is killed in a car crash in 1969.
1947 – Mandela is elected secretary of the ANC Youth League.
1948 – The National Party is voted into power by the white electorate. The party has campaigned on the promise to introduce a system of “apartheid” to totally separate the races. Discrimination against blacks, “coloureds” and Asians will be codified and extended.
All South Africans are legally assigned to one racial group – white, African, coloured or Asian. All races have separate living areas and separate amenities (such as toilets, parks and beaches). Signs enforcing the separation are erected throughout the country. Only white South Africans are allowed full political rights.
Black Africans have no parliamentary representation outside of the supposedly independent homelands created by the state. Mixed marriages are prohibited. Black trade unions are banned. Education is provided only up to a level to which it is deemed “a native is fitted.” Separate universities and colleges are established for Africans, coloureds and Indians. Jobs can be categorised as being for whites only. Travel without a pass is not permitted.
Police powers are expanded. Those charged with dissent are presumed guilty until proven innocent. The Suppression of Communism Act (1950) allows the police to “list” almost any opponent of apartheid as a supporter of the outlawed Communist Party of South Africa.
Opponents can be “banned”, an order subjecting them to lengthy periods of house arrest and preventing them from holding public office, attending public meetings and visiting specified areas. The Native Administration Act (1956) allows the government to “banish” Africans to remote rural areas.
During the 1950s there are approximately 500,000 pass law arrests annually, more than 600 individuals are listed as communists, nearly 350 are banned, and more than 150 are banished.
Speaking later about the National Party, Mandela says, “I despised them. … They dressed in beautiful suits, silk shirts and silk ties, but they were like a grave – beautiful outside and full of evil inside. That’s why I despised them. That’s why I fought them.”
1949 – On 17 December the Youth League’s ‘Program of Action’ to achieve full citizenship and direct parliamentary representation for all South Africans is adopted by the ANC at its annual conference. The program advocates the use of boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience and noncooperation.
1950 – Mandela is elected to the ANC National Executive Committee at the ANC’s national conference. In 1951 he becomes national president of the Youth League.
1952 – In February the ANC calls on the government to repeal all unjust laws or face a ‘Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws’. Mandela is placed in charge of volunteers for the campaign. He travels the country organising resistance to discriminatory legislation. Mass rallies and strikes staged on 6 April and 26 June attract thousands of supporters.
The government reacts by introducing harsher penalties for protests against apartheid. Campaign leaders and opposition newspapers are banned and about 8,500 people are arrested, including Mandela. Because of the disciplined and nonviolent nature of the campaign Mandela receives a suspended sentence, although a banning order confines him to Johannesburg for six months and prohibits him from attending gatherings.
While banned he formulates a plan to break down ANC branches into underground cells to enable greater contact with the African community, the so-called ‘M-Plan’ or Mandela plan. He also sits for the attorneys admission examination and is admitted to the bar. A subsequent petition by the Transvaal Law Society to take him off the roll of attorneys is refused by the Supreme Court.
Mandela and Tambo open the first black legal firm in the country. Much of their work involves defending blacks charged with pass law offences.
Meanwhile, the defiance campaign has helped build ANC membership from about 7,000 at the beginning of the year to more than 100,000 by the year’s end. Mandela, who is both president of the Youth League and of the Transvaal region of the ANC, is now elected an ANC deputy national president.
1953 – A banning order forces Mandela to resign officially from the ANC and work underground.
1955 – The ANC writes a ‘Freedom Charter’ stating that South Africa belongs to all people living within it regardless of race, that all South Africans should be treated equally before the law, and that the country’s wealth should be distributed equitably. The charter is being discussed at the ‘Congress of the People’ held near Soweto on 25-26 June when police surround the meeting, announce that they suspect treason is being committed and take the names and addresses of all those present.
1956 – Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu and 153 others are arrested for high treason and charges under the Suppression of Communism Act. During the subsequent ‘Treason Trial’ Mandela conducts his own defence. The defendants are acquitted on all counts in 1961. The court finds that the ANC does not have a policy of violence.
1957 – Mandela meets social worker Nomzamo Zaniewe Winifred “Winnie” Madikizela. He divorces his first wife and marries Winnie in 1958. The couple will have two daughters.
1959 – A radical faction of the ANC splits from the parent body and forms the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC). The PAC advocates direct action against the apartheid regime.
1960s – The regime introduces a program of forced relocation. Africans, coloureds and Asians are moved from areas designated for whites only to the “homelands” and other declared areas. By the 1980s about 3.5 million have been relocated.
1960 – In March the PAC begins a national campaign against the pass laws. Africans are asked to assemble outside police stations without their passes and challenge the police to arrest them.
The confrontation turns violent on 21 March when police open fire on a peaceful protest at Sharpeville, a black township near Johannesburg. Sixty-nine black Africans are killed and 186 wounded. Most have been shot in the back.
After the Sharpeville massacre Mandela and other ANC leaders make a public display of burning their passes and urge others to follow their example. When demonstrations continue, the government declares a state of emergency and arrests about 18,000 protesters, including the leaders of the ANC and the PAC. Both organisations are banned.
The ANC and Mandela go underground. The South African press will dub Mandela the ‘Black Pimpernel’ because of the disguises he uses to avoid detection.
1961 – As international protests against apartheid mount, South Africa is expelled from the British Commonwealth.
On 31 May, after gaining approval in a referendum restricted to whites, the government declares South Africa a republic. Mandela organises a national strike in protest. When the government responds by introducing new and harsher laws, and by mobilising its armed forces to break up the strike, Mandela comes to the conclusion that the time has come for the ANC to move beyond nonviolent protest.
“As violence in this country was inevitable, it would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and nonviolence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force,” he says.
“The idea in my mind was not that we were going to win, but that we were going to focus the attention of the world on our demands.”
Mandela and other ANC leaders form Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the military wing of the ANC, in November. Under Mandela’s leadership it launches a campaign of sabotage against government and economic installations.
Over the next two years 200 acts of sabotage will be carried out by Umkhonto, targeting power supplies, pass offices and other government buildings.
1962 – In January Mandela leaves South Africa illegally to attend a freedom conference in Algeria and to scout for military training facilities for Umkhonto members and raise funds from African states.
While away he personally undertakes a course of military training and resolves that the funding drive should be extended to Western and socialist nations.
Following his return in July he is arrested for leaving the country illegally and for incitement to strike. He conducts his own defence but is convicted in November and jailed for five years with hard labour.
1963 – In July, while Mandela is in prison, police raid an ANC safe house in Rivonia, a fashionable suburb on the northern outskirts Johannesburg and discover arms and equipment.
As a result Mandela, Sisulu and other leaders of the ANC and Umkhonto are put on trial for sabotage and for plotting to overthrow the government by violence and then bring about a communist state.
The defendants face the death penalty. They plead not guilty, arguing that the government is responsible because it forced them into their actions.
Mandela’s statement from the dock at the opening of the defence case on 20 April 1964 receives considerable international publicity.
He ends his statement by saying, “The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy. This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Meanwhile, the government acts to crush any further resistance to apartheid, introducing the General Law Amendment Act. The act allows police to detain suspects for 90 days without charge or access to legal advice. Suspects can then be rearrested and detained for a further 90 days.
1964 – On 11 June eight of the Rivonia accused, including Mandela and Sisulu, are convicted. Mandela is found guilty on four charges of sabotage. All eight are sentenced to life imprisonment and sent Robben Island Prison, a former leper colony 7 km off the coast from Cape Town.
The prisoners are kept in tiny cells measuring about two square metres and with only one small barred window. They sleep on the floor on straw mats and have to use a bucket for a toilet.
By day they work the island’s lime quarry where, because of the light and dust, most suffer from “snow blindness.” Mandela has to undergo surgery to restore the lachrymal ducts of his chronically inflamed eyes. To this day he is blinded by flashlights.
Mandela is allowed only one visit from his wife Winnie every six months. He will not be allowed to see their two daughters for 10 years.
Refusing to be bowed, Mandela continues his studies and encourages the other political detainees to exchange ideas and knowledge. The prison becomes known among the inmates as the ‘Robben Island University’ or the ‘Nelson Mandela University’.
Mandela consistently refuses to renounce his political beliefs in exchange for freedom. He becomes a focus of world attention and a symbol for the struggle of black South Africans. However, despite growing international criticism of the apartheid regime, foreign investment continues to pour into the country and immigration rises.
1973 – The United Nations (UN) declares apartheid “a crime against humanity.”
1975 – The withdrawal of the Portuguese colonial administration from Angola and Mozambique sees the installation in those countries of new independent governments hostile to South Africa’s apartheid regime. Umkhonto training and camp facilities are quickly set up in Angola. The ANC military wing now has a base close to South Africa.
On 23 October, and with the blessing of United States President Gerald Ford and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, South Africa invades Angola. The South African forces come within 100 km of the Angolan capital but are forced to pull back when Cuba sends 10,000 to 12,000 troops to assist the Angolan resistance.
1976 – The Soweto uprising begins on 16 June when high school students protest against the enforced use of Afrikaans in schools. After the police respond with tear gas and gunfire, demonstrators attack and burn down government buildings.
The uprising leads to weeks of demonstrations, marches and boycotts throughout South Africa. Violent clashes with police leave more than 500 dead, several thousand arrested, and thousands more seeking refuge outside the country, many with the exiled forces of the ANC.
1977 – The UN adopts a mandatory embargo on arms sales to South Africa.
1979 – With capital leaving the country because of political instability, and with the economy beginning to slow, the government attempts to reduce industrial unrest by allowing black workers to form unions. The first chink in the apartheid system has appeared.
1980 – Opposition to South Africa on the African continent is further entrenched when Robert Mugabe’s antiapartheid government takes power in Zimbabwe.
1982 – Mandela, along with Sisulu, is transferred from Robben Island to the maximum-security Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland.
1983 – The United Democratic Front (UDF), a coalition of nearly 600 organisations, is formed to persuade the government to abolish apartheid. Bishop Desmond Tutu emerges as one of the front’s principal spokesmen. By 1984 the front has a membership of more than three million.
1984 – The National Party introduces a new constitution in an attempt to stem dissent. However, the constitution, which establishes three racially segregated houses of parliament, for whites, Asians, and coloureds, but excludes blacks from full citizenship, has the opposite effect and is denounced as a continuation of apartheid.
1985 – Conflict and violence escalate. In 1984 there are 174 fatalities linked to political unrest. In 1985 the number rises to 879. Capital begins to flee the country. Forty US companies pull out of South Africa in 1984. Another 50 leave in 1985. Inflation rises and standards of living drop.
The government declares states of emergency in various parts of the country; the first time the emergency laws have been used since the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. The laws allow police to arrest without warrant and to detain people indefinitely without charge and without notification to lawyers or next of kin. Censorship of the media is also extended.
1986 – In October the US Congress passes legislation implementing mandatory sanctions against South Africa. All new investments and bank loans are banned, air links between the US and South Africa are terminated and the importation of many South African products is stopped.
1987 – While the union movement becomes increasingly militant, with the number of days lost to strikes reaching 5.8 million in 1987, armed members of the ANC and PAC stage raids on South Africa from their bases in Angola, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.
The regime responds by renewing a series of states of emergency, unleashing its police, and sending its military forces on counter-strike raids.
Media restrictions are tightened and the UDF and other activist organisations are effectively banned.
As a result opprobrium for the regime grows around the world. More foreign investors withdraw, banks call in loans, the currency collapses, economic production declines and inflation becomes chronic.
1988 – Mandela is diagnosed with tuberculosis. He is moved to the Victor Verster Prison near Paarl, 50 km northeast of Cape Town.
In May South African President P.W. Botha, a National Party hardliner, directs the head of his intelligence service, Niel Barnard, to meet secretly with Mandela at Verster to discuss the possibility of a peace settlement. More than 60 similar meetings will follow.
1989 – The “secret” talks culminate with a face-to-face meeting between Mandela and Botha at Botha’s presidential office on 5 July.
When Botha offers him his freedom if he renounces the use of violence Mandela refuses. In the first public statement heard from him in 20 years, Mandela says, “I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return.”
Botha subsequently resigns following a stroke and is replaced by F.W. de Klerk, a moderate within the National Party.
Mandela meets with de Klerk in December. Negotiations on the terms and conditions for Mandela’s release begin.
1990 – On 2 February de Klerk announces that Mandela will be released. He also rescinds the orders banning the ANC, the PAC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and other previously illegal organisations. Restrictions on the UDF and the media are lifted.
Mandela is finally released from prison on Sunday 11 February. He is 71 years old and has spent the past 27 years in custody. He immediately reaffirms his statement from the Rivonia trial but refuses to renounce the armed struggle, refuses to call for the lifting of international sanctions against South Africa until further progress is achieved, and refuses to accept an interim power-sharing arrangement proposed by the government.
In March he is elected deputy president of the ANC. He is now faced with the difficult task of reconciling not only the black majority with the white oppressors but also the various factions within the antiapartheid movement.
Representatives of the government and the ANC met in Cape Town in May to begin planning for formal negotiations on a transition, the so-called “talks about talks.” In June Mandela and de Klerk met officially for the first time. In August Mandela announces the suspension of the ANC’s armed struggle. In October the government repeals the law requiring the races to use separate amenities.
1991 – Negotiations continue on the transition. By April, 933 of the country’s estimated 2,500 political prisoners have been released. On 5 June the government repeals the law making it illegal for Africans to own land in urban areas and the law segregating people by race. A new law allows all races equal rights to own property anywhere in the country. The law assigning every resident of South Africa to a specific racial group is repealed on 17 June. The international community responds by lifting most of the sanctions on South Africa.
On 7 July, at the first national conference of the ANC held inside South Africa since the organisation was banned in 1960, Mandela is elected president of the ANC. Sisulu is elected deputy president and Tambo is elected the organisation’s national chairperson.
Also in July, Mandela travels to Cuba to personally thank Cuban President Fidel Castro for assisting the fight against the apartheid regime. Cuban troops helped to drive South African forces from Angola in the 1970s and 1980s, an outcome that secured Angola’s independence, paved the way for the independence of neighbouring Namibia and provided added impetus for the final downfall of apartheid in South Africa.
1992 – White South African’s overwhelmingly vote “yes” in a referendum asking if the reform of apartheid should be continued. In September, following a request by Mandela, 400 political prisoners are released. Mandela divorces his now estranged wife Winnie during the year.
1993 – The negotiations on the transition conclude towards the end of the year. It is agreed that a five-year ‘Government of National Unity’ with a majority-rule constitution will be formed following South Africa’s first truly multiracial democratic election, scheduled for April 1994.
The new constitution guarantees all South Africans “equality before the law and equal protection of the law”, full political rights, freedom of expression and assembly, and the right to “choose a place of residence anywhere in the national territory.”
Mandela and de Klerk are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December for “their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new, democratic South Africa.”
“Many people have remarked on the apparent lack of bitterness that characterises Mandela’s conduct since he was released from prison,” the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee says in his presentation speech.
“He himself has said that perhaps he would have harboured bitter thoughts if he had not had a job to do. Then he adds as an afterthought that if only all those who have made such great sacrifices for the sake of justice could see that they have not been in vain, that would serve to eliminate the bitterness from their hearts.”
Full copy of presentation speech.
Accepting the award, Mandela speaks of his hopes for “the renewal of our world.”
“Let it never be said by future generations that indifference, cynicism or selfishness made us fail to live up to the ideals of humanism which the Nobel Peace Prize encapsulates,” he says.
“Let the strivings of us all, prove Martin Luther King Jr to have been correct, when he said that humanity can no longer be tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war.
“Let the efforts of us all, prove that he was not a mere dreamer when he spoke of the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace being more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.
“Let a new age dawn!”
Full copy of acceptance speech.
1994 – The ANC wins the country’s first all-race elections.
Over four days beginning on 26 April more than 22 million South Africans, or about 91% of registered voters, go to the polls.
The ANC secures nearly 63% of the vote, missing the two-thirds majority needed to unilaterally change the constitution. The National Party gets about 20% of the vote, becoming the second largest party in the parliament.
On 9 May the National Assembly unanimously elects Mandela president. De Klerk is elected one of two deputy presidents.
Mandela is inaugurated on 10 May at a ceremony in Pretoria, the South African capital. In his inaugural address he stresses the need for reconciliation and once again quotes his own words from the Rivonia trial, reaffirming his determination to create a peaceful, nonracial society.
“We dedicate this day to all the heroes and heroines in this country and the rest of the world who sacrificed in many ways and surrendered their lives so that we could be free,” he says, ” Their dreams have become reality.”
The ministry of the new government includes blacks, whites, Afrikaners, Indians, coloureds, Muslims, Christians, communists, liberals and conservatives.
In June the government announces that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission will investigate human rights abuses and political crimes committed by both supporters and opponents of apartheid between 1960 and 10 May 1994. Guidelines for the commission’s operations are set and Archbishop Desmond Tutu is appointed as its chair.
Meanwhile, Mandela pledges one-third of his salary for five years for the establishment of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. He will also found the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship Foundation.
1996 – A new South African constitution that bars discrimination against the country’s minorities, including whites, is signed into law by Mandela on 10 December. The new constitution contains a bill of rights and ends the Government of National Unity. The ANC takes government in its own right. The National Party becomes the opposition.
1997 – Mandela resigns as president of the ANC.
On 22-23 October he travels to Libya for talks with Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi about ways to end UN sanctions imposed on the country in 1992 following its refusal to hand over two alleged intelligence agents indicted for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. It is Mandela’s third trip to Libya since his release from prison.
Gaddafi had provided the South African resistance movement with ongoing support during the apartheid era, a stance for which Mandela feels a debt of gratitude. “This man (Gaddafi) helped us at a time when we were all alone, when those who say we should not come here (Britain and the US) were helping the enemy,” Mandela says.
1998 – On his 80th birthday Mandela marries Graca Machel, widow of Mozambican President Samora Machel, who was killed in a plane crash 12 years earlier.
1999 – Mandela finally convinces Gaddafi to hand over the two Lockerbie bombing suspects. The two are subsequently tried in a Scottish court convened in the Netherlands. One of the two will be acquitted, the other, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, is found guilty and sentenced to 20 years of solitary confinement in a prison in Glasgow, Scotland.
The ANC wins the general election held on 2 June, increasing its majority.
Mandela bows out of politics, stepping down as president of South Africa and returning to live at his birthplace in Transkei. However, his retirement is short-lived and in December he is appointed by the UN to lead talks aimed at ending a six-year old civil war in the African state of Burundi.
“I really wanted to retire and rest and spend more time with my children, my grandchildren and of course with my wife,” Mandela will later say. “But the problems are such that for anybody with a conscience who can use whatever influence he may have to try to bring about peace, it’s difficult to say no.”
2002 – Mandela reenters South African public life when he begins to question the government’s approach to the HIV-AIDS crisis in the country.
South Africa has the highest number of HIV infections in the world, with about 4.7 million people, or one in nine of the population, carrying the virus. However, the government refuses to support the widespread use of retroviral drugs to treat the epidemic and suggests that poverty may be the real cause of AIDS.
Mandela calls for strong leadership, stating that it is “the key to any effective response in the war against HIV.”
In August Mandela reveals that one of his nieces and two sons of a nephew have died from AIDS. “We must encourage our relatives who are HIV-positive to disclose their status so they can be helped and attended to,” he says.
Mandela will later set up the 46664 HIV-AIDS awareness campaign.
On 2 September Mandela joins the growing number of world figures critical of plans by the administrations of US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to launch a preemptive, unilateral attack on Iraq.
“We are really appalled by any country, whether a superpower or a small country, that goes outside the UN and attacks independent countries,” he says. “No country should be allowed to take the law into their own hands … What they (the US) are saying is introducing chaos in international affairs, and we condemn that in the strongest terms.”
In an interview published in the 16 September issue of ‘Newsweek’ magazine Mandela goes further in his criticism, saying that if you consider the past “mistakes” of US foreign policy “you will come to the conclusion that the attitude of the United States of America is a threat to world peace.”
Mandela believes that any action against Iraq should be implemented through the UN and calls on Iraq to allow the unconditional return of weapons inspectors. He offers to act as an intermediary between the UN and Iraq.
2003 – On 30 April Mandela officiates at ceremony marking a transfer of power in Burundi agreed to during the negotiations he has mediated. However, fighting between the government and rebel groups continues and it is generally considered that Burundi remains on the brink of civil war.
2004 – Mandela’s first wife, Evelyn Mase, dies in May.
On 21 September Mandela opens the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and Commemoration, an archive of his papers and records. The centre is located at the offices of the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg.
“The history of our country is characterised by too much forgetting,” Mandela says at the opening.
“One of our challenges as we build and extend democracy is the need to ensure that our youth know where we come from, what we have done to break the shackles of our oppression, and how we have pursued the journey to freedom and dignity for all.”
2005 – On 6 January Mandela reveals that his only surviving son, Makgatho Mandela, has died of AIDS.
“Let us give publicity to HIV/Aids and not hide it, because the only way of making it appear to be a normal illness just like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody has died of HIV,” Mandela says.
Later in January Mandela backs a plan by British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown to establish a “Marshall plan” to tackle poverty and debt in Africa. Mandela says be will travel to London in February to lobby for the proposal at a meeting of G7 (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and US) finance ministers.
Prior to the G7 meeting Mandela tells a large crowd gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square that it is time to free the millions of people in the world’s poorest countries who are “trapped in the prison of poverty.”
“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made, and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life,” he says.
The meeting of the G7 finance ministers agrees in principle to write off up to 100% of debts owed by 37 of the world’s poorest nations.
Back in South Africa, the National Party, which introduced the apartheid system after coming to government in 1948, officially disbands on 9 April. The party had received less than two percent of the vote at general elections held in 2004.
2007 – Mandela celebrates his 89th birthday on 18 July, marking the occasion with the launch of a group of eminent world-leaders, to be known as the ‘Elders’. The brainchild of entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel, the members of the group will, according to Mandela, use “their collective experience, their moral courage and their ability to rise above nation, race and creed (to) make our planet a more peaceful and equitable place to live.”
Members of the group include Desmond Tutu, former US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, former Irish president Mary Robinson, philanthropist Muhammad Yunas, Indian women’s rights campaigner Ela Bhatt, and Mandela’s wife Graca Machel. The increasingly frail Mandela will not play an active role in the group.
On 29 August a bronze statue of Mandela is unveiled outside the Houses of Parliament in London. The statue will remain in Parliament Square as a permanent tribute to Mandela, alongside status of Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln.
“The history of the struggle in South Africa is rich with stories of heroes and heroines, some of them leaders, some of them followers. All of them deserve to be remembered,” Mandela says at the unveiling ceremony.
“Though this statue is of one man, it should in actual fact symbolise all those who have resisted oppression, especially in my country.”
2008 – In June, Mandela comments on the turmoil in Zimbabwe, where long-term President Robert Mugabe is accused of using fear, violence and intimidation to stay in power.
Speaking in London on the eve of celebrations for his 90th birthday, Mandela says, “We look back at much human progress, but we sadly note so much failing as well. We watch with sadness the continuing tragedy in Darfur. Nearer to home, we had seen the outbreak of violence against fellow Africans and the tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe.”
Meanwhile, the US officially removes Mandela and the ANC from its terrorism watch list. Mandela was added to the list in the 1980s.
2009 – In April, Mandela comes out of retirement to back the campaign of ANC presidential candidate Jacob Zuma. Zuma wins the election and is confirmed as the third elected president of post-apartheid South Africa.
2010 – The UN General Assembly declares 18 July “Nelson Mandela International Day.”, calling for annual commemorations to recognise Mandela’s “leading role in and support for Africa’s struggle for liberation and Africa’s unity.”.