Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 and educated at University College of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand. He received a law degree in 1942. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944 and resisted the ruling National Party’s apartheid policies after 1948. He favoured a redistribution of land, union rights, and the promotion of education and culture. In 1952 he favoured only nonviolent tactics. He used his law practice to help poor blacks. He was tried for treason in 1956-61 and was acquitted. He conducted his own defence. The ANC was banned in 1960 and Mandela argued for the setting up of a military wing, in his words, “when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us,…the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle.” The ANC agreed. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to 5 years in prison with hard labour, then for life in prison for plotting to overthrow the government with violence. During imprisonment Mandela became accepted as the most significant black leader in South Africa. His greatest pleasure in life was to watch sunsets while playing Handel and Tchaikovsky, a simple pleasure denied him for decades because he was imprisoned for standing up for racial equality. A typical day for Mandela involved getting up at 4:30, no matter how late he worked the night before, doing exercises for at least an hour after 5:00 a.m., having breakfast at 6:30 when he would read the daily newspapers, and then he would work at least a 12-hour day. He repeatedly refused to compromise his position to get an early release, such as when South African President P. W. Botha in the 1980s offered him freedom if we would renounce violence. He was released February 11, 1990 and elected President of the ANC in their first national conference since they were banned in 1960. Interestingly, shortly after his release he decided to suspend the armed struggle. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He was the first democratically elected State President of South Africa from May 1994 to June 1999. He is credited for the overthrow of decades of Apartheid and racist policies in South Africa, a revolutionary event without spilling a drop of blood as is sometimes said. He then retired from public life.

I am indebted to the Nobel Peace Prize site for the writing of this biography:, as well as the site for the African National Congress:

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