Nelson Mandela | One Year On

The 5th December 2014 marked one year since the passing of the former President, Nelson Mandela. It’s hard to believe that it was that day last year that the world lost a true icon. Best known for fighting for equality and also for everyone’s human rights during the apartheid that occurred during Nelson’s life, he spent a lot of his life fighting for everyone’s human rights, the right to equality and also for everyone to be equal and share different things.

This article will take a look back on the former president himself, not just for the legacy he has left behind, but also for the timeline of events that unfolded throughout his life.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (18th July 1918 – 5th December 2013)

Born on the 18th July 1918, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist who served as the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was also South Africa’s first black chief executive, and the first to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government would focus on dismantling the legacy of the apartheid through tackling institutionalised racism, poverty and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation.

As he was politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, Nelson Mandela served as the President of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1991 to 1997. Internationally, Nelson Mandela was also the Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999.

A Xhosa born to the Thembu royal family, Mandela attended the Fort Hare University and the University of Witwatersrand, where he studied law. Living in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela became involved in anti-colonial politics, joining the ANC and becoming a founding member of its Youth League.

After the Afrikaner minority government of the National Party established the apartheid in 1948, he rose to prominence in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign, and was appointed superintendent of the organisation’s Transvaal chapter and also presided over the 1955 Congress of the People. Working as a lawyer, Nelson Mandela was repeatedly arrested for seditious activies and, with the ANC leadership, was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961.

Influenced by Marxism, he secretly joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) and sat on its Central Committee. Although he was initially committed to non-violent protests, in association with the SACP, Nelson Mandela co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In 1962, he Mandela was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.

Nelson Mandela served 27 years in prison, initially on Robben Island, and then later on in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. An international campaign lobbied for his released, which was granted in 1990, to avoid escalating civil strife. He joined negotiations with the Nationalist President F.W. de Klerk to abolish the apartheid and establish the multiracial elections in 1994, in which he led the ANDC to victory and became South Africa’s first black president. He published his autobiography in 1995.

During his tenure in the Government of National Unity, he invited other political parties to join the cabinet, and promulgated a new constitution. He also created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. While continuing the former government’s liberal economic policy, his administration also introduced the measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty, and expand the healthcare services.

Internationally, Nelson Mandela acted as the mediator between Libya and the UK in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial, and also oversaw the military intervention in Lesotho. He declined to run for a second term, and was succeeded by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. Mandela became an elder statesman, focusing on the charitable work in combatting poverty and HIV/AIDS through his own charity, the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Nelson Mandela was a controversial figure for much of his life. Denounced as a communist terrorist by critics, he had nevertheless gained the international acclaim for his activism, having received more than 250 honours, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Soviet Order of Lenin. He is held in the deepest respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba, or as Tata (“Father”); he is often described to be the “Father of the Nation”.

Nelson Mandela’s Arrival in Johannesburg: 1941 – 1943

After he returned to Mqhekezweni in December 1940, Nelson Mandela had found out that Jongintaba had arranged marriages for him and Justice; being dismayed, they fled to Johannesburg via Queenstown, arriving in April 1941. Mandela managed to find work as a night watchman at the Crown Mine, which was his “first sight of African capitalism in action”, but he was fired when the induna (headman) discovered that Nelson Mandela was a runaway.

By staying with a cousin in George Goch Township, Nelson Mandela was introduced to the realtor and ANC activist, Walter Sisulu, who secured him a job as an articled clerk at the law firm, Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman. The company was run by a liberal Jew, Lazar Sidelsky, who was sympathetic to the ANC’s cause. At the firm, Mandela befriended Gaur Redebe, a Xhosa member of the ANC and Communist Party, as well as Nat Bregman, a Jewish communist who became his first white friend.

By attending the communist talks and parties, Nelson Mandela was impressed that the Europeans, Africans, Indians and Coloureds were mixing as equals. He stated later on that he did not join the Party because its atheism conflicted with his Christian faith, and because he saw the South African struggle as being racially based rather than class warfare. After becoming increasingly politicised, in August 1943, Nelson marched in support of a successful bus boycott to reverse the fare rises. Continuing his higher education, Nelson Mandela signed up to a University of South Africa correspondence course, working on his bachelor’s degree at night.

While he was earning a small wage, Mandela rented a room in the house of the Xhoma family in the Alexandra township; although it was rife with poverty, crime and pollution, Alexandra always remained “a treasure place” for Nelson. Although he was embarrassed by his poverty, he briefly encountered a Swazi woman before unsuccessfully courting his landlord’s daughter.

In order to save money and be closer to downtown Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela moved into the compound of the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association, living among minors of various tribes; as the compound itself was a “way station for visiting chiefs”, he once met the Queen Regent of Basutoland. In late 1941, Jongintaba visited, forgiving Mandela for runnning away.

Upon returning to Thembuland, the regent passed away in the Winter of 1942; Mandela and Justice arrived a day late for the funeral. After passing his BA exam in early 1943, Nelson Mandela returned to Johannesburg to follow a political path as a lawyer rather than become a privy councillor in Thembuland. He later stated that he had experienced no epiphany, but that he “simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.”

Imprisonment –  The Arrest and Rivonia Trial: 1962 – 1964

On the 5th August 1962, the police captured Nelson Mandela along with Cecil Williams near Howick. A large number of groups were accused of having tipped off the police about Mandela’s whereabouts, including his host in Durban GR Naidoo, the white members of the South African Communist Party, and the CIA, but Nelson Mandela had considered none of these connections to be credible, and instead attributed his arrest to his own carelessness in concealing his movements.

Of the Criminal Investigation Agency’s link in particular, Mandela’s official biographer, Anthony Sampson believed that “the claim cannot be substantiated.” Jailed in Johannesburg’s Marshall Square prison, he was charged with inciting the workers’ strikes and also by leaving the country without permission. By representing himself with Slovo as the legal advisor, Nelson Mandela intended to use the trial to showcase “the ANC’s moral opposition to racism” while supporters demonstrated outside the court.

By moving to Pretoria, where Winnie could visit him, in his cell, he began his correspondence studies for a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from the University of London. His hearing began on the 15th October, but he disrupted the proceedings by wearing a traditional kaross, refusing to call any witnesses, and turning his plea of mitigation into a political speech. After he was found guilty, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, and as he left the courtroom, his supporters sang Nkosi Sikelei iAfrika.

On the 11th July 1963, the police raided Liliesleaf Farm, arresting those that they had found there, and uncovering the paperwork documenting MK’s activities, some of which had mentioned Nelson Mandela. The Rivonia Trial began at the Pretoria Supreme Court on the 9th October, with Nelson Mandela himself and his comrades being charged with four counts of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government. Their chief prosecutor, Percy Yutar, called for them to receive the death penalty. The judge, Quartus de Wet soon threw out the prosecution’s case due to insufficient evidence, but Yutar would reformulate the charges, presenting his new case from December 1963 until February 1964, calling 173 witnesses and also bringing thousands of documents and photographs to the trial.

With the exception of James Kantor, who was found to be innocent of all charges, Mandela and the accused admitted sabotage but they did denie that they had ever agreed to initiate a guerilla war against the government. They used the trial to highlight their own political cause. At the opening of the defence’s proceedings, Mandeka gave a three-hour speech. This speech, which was inspired by Castro’s “History Will Absolve Me” speech, was widely reported in the press despite the official censorship, and was also hailed as one of his greatest speeches.

The trial itself gained national attention, with global calls for the release of the accused from such institutions as the United Nations and the World Peace Council. The University of London Union voted Nelson Mandela to its presidency, and nightly vigils for Mandela were held in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The South African government generally deemed Mandela and his co-defendants violent communist saboteurs, and on the 12th June 1964, justice Quartus de Wet found Nelson Mandela and two of his co-accused guilty of all four charges, sentencing them to life imprisonment rather than death.

Robben Island: 1964 – 1982

Nelson Mandela and his co-accused were transferred from Pretoria to the prison on Robben Island, where they would remain for the next 18 years. Isolated from the non-political prisoners in Section B, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in a damp, concrete cell, measuring 8 feet (2.4 m) by 7 feet (2.1 m), with a straw mat on which he had to sleep on. Being verbally and physically harassed by several of the white prison wardens, the Rivonia Trial prisoners spent their days breaking rocks in gravel, until they were re-assigned in January 1965 to work in a lime quarry.

Mandela was initially forbidden to wear sunglasses, and the glare from the lime permanently damaged his eyesight. At night, he would work on his LLB degree, but newspapers were forbidden, and he was locked in solitary confinement on several occasions for possessing smuggled news clippings. Being classified as the lowest grade of prisoner, Class D, Nelson was permitted only one visit and one letter every 6 months, although all mail was heavily censored.

The political prisoners took part in work and hunger strikes – the latter of which was considered to be largely ineffective by Nelson Mandela – to improve the prison conditions. viewing this as a microcosm of the anti-apartheid struggle. The ANC prisoners elected him to their four-man “High Organ” along with Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Raymond Mhlaba, and he involved himself in a group, representing all of the political prisoners on the island, Ulundi, through which he would forge links with the PAC and Yu Chi Chan Club members.

Initiating the “University of Robben Island”, whereby prisoners lectured on their own areas of expertise, he would debate on topics, such as homosexuality and politics with his comrades, getting into fierce arguments on the latter with Marxists like Mbeki and Harry Gwala. Through attending Christian Sunday services, Nelson Mandela studied Islam. He also studied Afrikaans, hoping to build a mutual respect with the warders and convert them to his cause.

Various official visitors met with Nelson Mandela; most significant was the Liberal Parliamentary Representative, Helen Suzman of the Progressive Party, who championed Mandela’s cause outside prison. In September 1970, Nelson Mandela met the British Labour Party MP, Dennis Healey. The South African Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger, visited in December 1974, but he and Mandela didn’t get on. His mother visited him in 1968, but died shortly after, and his first-born son, Thembi, died in a car accident the following year, with Mandela being forbidden from attending either funeral. His wife was rarely able to visit him, being imprisoned regularly for political activity, and his daughters first visited him in December 1975; Winnie got out of prison in 1977 but was forcibly settled in Brandfort, still being unable to visit him.

From 1967, prison conditions had improved, black prisoners were given trousers rather than shorts, games were allowed and the standard of their food was raised. Mandela later commented on how football “made us feel alive and triumphant despite the situation we found ourselves in”. In 1969, an escape plan for Nelson Mandela was developed by Gordon Bruce, but it was abandoned after it was infilitrated by an agent of the South African Bureau of State Security (BOSS), who had hoped to see Nelson Mandela being shot during the escape.

In 1970, Commander Piet Badenhorst became the commanding officer. Mandela, seeing an increase in the physical and mental abuse of prisoners, complained to the visiting judges, who had managed to get Badenhorst reassigned. He was replaced by Commander Willie Willemse, who had developed a co-operative relationship with Nelson Mandela, and was keen to improve the prison standards.

By 1975, Mandela had become a Class A prisoner, allowing a greater number of visits and letters, in which he would correspond with the anti-apartheid activists, such as Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Desmond Tutu. That year, he began his autobiography, which was was smuggled to London, but remained unpublished at the time; prison authorities discovered several pages, and his study privileges were stopped for 4 years. Instead, he would devote his own spare time to gardening and reading, until he resumed his LLB degree studies in 1980.

By the late 1960s, Mandela’s fame was eclipsed by Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). By seeing the ANC as ineffectual, the BCM called for militant action, but following the Soweto uprising of 1976, many of the BCM activists were imprisoned on Robben Island. Nelson Mandela tried to build a relationship with these young radicals, although he was critical of their racialism and contempt for white anti-apartheid activists. Renewed international interest in his plight came in July 1978, when he celebrated his 60th birthday. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in Lesotho, the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in India in 1979, and the Freedom of the City of Glasgow, Scotland in 1981.

In March 1980, the slogan: “Free Mandela!” was developed by the journalist, Percy Qoboza, sparking an international campaign that led the UN Security Council to call for his release. Despite the increased foreign pressure, the government had chosen to refuse, relying on the powerful foreign Cold War allies in the US President, Ronald Reagan, and the UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who both had considered Mandela a communist terrorist and supported the suppression of the ANC.

The General Election: 1994

With the election date being set for the 27th April 1994, the ANC began campaigning, opening 100 election offices and hiring the advisor, Stanley Greenberg. Stanley Greenberg orchestrated the foundation of the People’s Forums across the country, at which Mandela would be able to appear. He was a popular figure with a great status among black South Africans. The ANC campaigned on a Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) to build a million houses in five years, and to introduce universal free education and extend the access to water and electricity.

The party’s slogan was “a better life for all”, although it wasn’t explained how this development would be funded. With the exception of the Weekly Mail and the New Nation, South Africa’s press opposed Nelson Mandela’s election, fearing the continued ethnic strife, instead of supporting the National or Democratic Party. Mandela has devoted much of his own free time to fundraising for the ANC, touring North America, Europe and Asia to meet the wealthy donors, including the former supporters of the apartheid regime. He also urged for a reduction in the voting age from 18 to 14. This was rejected by the ANC, and this policy later on became the subject of ridicule.

Concerns that the COSAG would undermine the election, particularly in the wake of the Battle of Bop and the Shell House Massacre – the incidents of violence involving the AWB and Inkatha respectively – Mandela met with the Afrikaaner politicians and generals, including P. W. Botha, Pik Botha and Constand Viljoen, persuading many to work within the democratic system, and with de Klerk convinced Inkatha’s Buthelezi to enter the elections rather than launch a war of secession.

As the leaders of the two major parties, de Klerk and Nelson Mandela appeared on a televised debate; although de Klerk was widely considered to be the better speaker at the event, Mandela’s offer to shake his hand surprised him, leading some of the commentators to consider this as a victory for Nelson Mandela. The election went ahead with little of violence, however, an AWB cell killed 20 with the use of car bombs.

As it was widely expected, the ANC won a sweeping victory, taking 62% of the vote, which was just short of the two-thirds majority that was needed to unilaterally change the constitution. The ANC was also victorious in 7 of the provinces, with Inkatha and the National Party each taking another. Nelson Mandela voted at the Ohlange High School in Durban, and although the ANC’s victory assured his election as the President, he did publicly accept that the election was marred by the instances of fraud and sabotage.

Retirement | The continued activism and philanthropy: 1999 – 2004

After retiring in June 1999 from his role as the President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela had sought for a quiet family life, to be divided between Johannesburg and Qunu. He set about authoring a sequel to his first autobiography, to be titled: “The Presidential Years”, but it was abandoned before publication. After finding such seclusion difficult, Nelson reverted to a busy public life with a daily programme of tasks, meeting with the world leaders and celebrities, and when in Johannesburg, he worked with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which was founded by him in 1999, to focus on school construction, the rural development and combatting HIV/AIDS.

Although he was heavily criticised for failing to do enough to fight the pandemic during his presidency, he did devote much of his time to the issue following his retirement, describing it as “a war” that had killed more than “all previous wars”, and had urged Mbeki’s government to ensure that HIV+ South Africans would have access to the anti-retrovirals. In 2000, the Nelson Mandela Invitational charity golf tournament was founded and hosted by Gary Playeer. Nelson Mandela was also successfully treated for prostate cancer in July 2001.

In 2002, Mandela had inaugurated the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, and in 2003, the Mandela Rhodes Foundation was created at Rhodes House, the University of Oxford, to provide the postgraduate scholarships to African students. These projects were followed by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, and the 46664 campaign against HIV/AIDS. Nelson Mandela gave the closing address at the XIII International AIDS Conference in Durban in 2000, and in 2004, he spoke at the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok in Thailand.

Publicly, Nelson Mandela became more vocal in criticising the Western Powers. He strongly opposed the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo and had called it an attempt by the world’s powerful nations to police the entire world. In 2003, Nelson spoke out against the plans for the US and the UK to launch the War in Iraq, describing it as “a tragedy” and lambasting the US President, George W. Bush and the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, for undermining the UN, saying “All that (Mr. Bush) wants is Iraqi oil”.

He attacked the US more generally, asserting that it had committed more “unspeakable atrocities” across the world than any other nation, citing the atomic bombing of Japan; this attracted international controversy, although he had later reconciled his relationship with Tony Blair. Retaining an interest in Libyan-UK relations, he visited Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi in Barlinnie Prison and spoke out against the conditions of his treatment, referring to them as “psychological persecution”.

“Retiring from Retirement”, illness: 2004 – 2013

In June 2004, aged 85 and amid failing health, NNelson Mandela announced that he was “retiring from retirement” and retreating from public life, remarking: “Don’t call me, I will call you.” Although he continued to meet with his close friends and family, his Foundation discouraged invitations for him to appear at public events and denied him most of the interview requests.

He did retain some involvement in the international affairs, and in 2005, he founded the Nelson Mandela Legacy Trust, where he would travel to the United States to speak before the Brookings Institute and the NAACP on the urgent need for economic assistance to Africa. He spoke with the U.S. Senator, Hillary Clinton and President George W. Bush and first met the then-U.S. Senator, Barack Obama. Nelson Mandela had also encouraged the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe to resign over the growing human rights abuse in the country.

When this was proved to be ‘ineffective’, he spoke out publicly against Robert Mugabe in 2007, asking him to step down “with residual respect and a modicum of dignity.” That year, Nelson Mandela, Machel and Desmond Tutu convened a group of world leaders in Johannesburg to contribute their wisdom and independent leadership to some of the world’s toughest problems. Mandela announced the formation of his new group, The Elders, in a speech that he delivered on his 89th birthday.

Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday was marked across the country on the 18th July 2008, with the main celebrations being held at Qunu, and also a concert in his honour in Hyde Park in London. In a speech that marked the event, Nelson Mandela called for the rich to help the poor across the world. Throughout Mbeki’s presidency, Nelson continued to support the ANC, although he usually overshadowed Mbeki at any public events that the two had attended. Mandela felt more at ease with Mbeki’s successor, Jacob Zuma, although the Nelson Mandela Foundation were upset when his grandson, Mandla Mandela, flew him out to the Eastern Cape to attend a pro-Zuma rally in the midst of a storm in 2009.

In 2004, Nelson Mandela had successfully campagined for South Africa to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, declaring that there would be “few better gifts for us in the year”, marking a decade since the fall of the apartheid. Mandela emotionally raised the FIFA World Cup Trophy after South Africa was awarded the host status, and despire maintaining a low profile during the event due to ill-health, Nelson Mandela made his final public appearance during the World Cup Closing Ceremony, where he received a “rapturous reception”.

Between 2005 and 2013, Mandela, and later on his family, were embroiled in a series of legal disputes regarding the money that was held in the family trusts for the benefit of his descendants. In mid-2013, as Nelson Mandela was hospitalised for a lung infection in Pretoria, his descendants were invloved in an intra-family legal dispute, relating to the burial place of Mandela’s children, and ultimately, Nelson Mandela himself.

In February 2011, Nelson Mandela was briefly hospitalised with a respiratory infection, which attracted international attention, before he was re-hospitalised for a lung infection and gall-stone removal in December 2012. After a successful medical procedure in early March 2013, his lung infection recurred, and he was again, briefly hospitalised in Pretoria. On the 8th June 2013, his lung infection had worsened, and he was re-hospitalised in Pretoria in a serious condition. After 4 days, it was reported that he had stabilised and remained in a “serious, but stable condition”. While he was en route to the hospital, his ambulance broke down and was also stranded on the roadside for 40 minutes. The government was criticised for the incident, but Zuma had countered that throughout, Nelson Mandela was given “expert medical care.”

On the 22nd June 2013, CBS News had stated that Nelson Mandela hadn’t opened his eyes in days, and that he was unresponsive, and also how the family was discussing the medical intervention that should be given. The former bodyguard, Shaun van Heerden, described by CBS News as “Mandela’s constant companion for the last 12 years”, had publicly asked Nelson’s family to “set him free” a week prior.

On the 23rd June 2013, Zuma announced that Nelson Mandela’s condition had become “critical”. Zuma, who was accompanied by the President of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, met Mandela’s wife Graça Machel at the hospital in Pretoria and discussed his condition. On the 25th June 2013, the Cape Town Archbishop, Thabo Makgoba, visited Nelson Mandela at the hospital and had also prayed with Graça Machel Mandela “at this hard time of watching and waiting”. The next day, Zuma visited Mandela in the hospital and had also cancelled his visit to Mozambique, which was scheduled for the next day. A relative of Nelson Mandela told The Daily Telegraph newspaper that he was on life support.

On the 4th July 2013, it was reported that David Smith, who was a lawyer acting on behalf of Mandela’s family members, claimed in court on the 26th June that Mandela was in a permanent vegetative state, and that life support should be withdrawn. The South African Presidency had stated that the doctors that were treating Nelson Mandela denied that he was in a vegetative state. On the 10th July, Jacob Zuma’s office had announced that Mandela did remain in a critical, but stable condition, and that he was also responding to treatment. On the 1st September 2013, Nelson Mandela was discharged from hospital, although his condition did remain unstable.

Nelson Mandela’s Death & Funeral

After suffering from a prolonged respiratory infection, Nelson Mandela sadly passed away on the 5th December 2013, at the age of 95. He died at round 20:50 local time (UTC+2) at his home in Houghton, in Johannesburg, surrounded by his family. His death was announced on international television by the President, Jacob Zuma. On the 6th December 2013, just a day after Nelson Mandela’s death, the President, Jacob Zuma, announced that there would be a national mourning period of ten days, with the main event being held at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on the 10th December 2013.

He declared on Sunday 8th December 2013, that there would be a national day of prayer and reflection. Nelson Mandela’s body would lay in state from the 11th to the 13th December at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, and a state funeral was held on the 15th December 2013 in Qunu, South Africa, exactly 10 days after he died. Approximately 90 representatives of the foreign states travelled to South Africa to attend the memorial events. Nelson Mandela’s $4.1 million estate was left to his widow, other family members, staff and educational institutions.

This article now comes to an end. Make sure to check back very soon for the final article of this year, where I will be taking a look back on 2014, focusing on this year in review, before we all welcome in 2015.

Alex Smithson


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