Mandela's words, "The struggle is my life," are
not to be taken lightly.
Nelson Mandela personifies struggle. He is still leading
the fight against apartheid with extraordinary vigour and resilience
after spending nearly three decades of his life behind bars. He has
sacrificed his private life and his youth for his people, and remains
South Africa's best known and loved hero.
Mandela has held numerous positions in the ANC: ANCYL
secretary (1948); ANCYL president (1950); ANC Transvaal president
(1952); deputy national president (1952) and ANC president (1991).
He was born at Qunu, near Umtata on 18 July 1918.
His father, Henry Mgadla Mandela, was chief councillor to
Thembuland's acting paramount chief David Dalindyebo. When his father
died, Mandela became the chief's ward and was groomed for the
Mandela matriculated at Healdtown Methodist Boarding School
and then started a BA degree at Fort Hare. As an SRC member he
participated in a student strike and was expelled, along with the late
Oliver Tambo, in 1940. He completed his degree by correspondence from
Johannesburg, did articles of clerkship and enrolled for an LLB at the
University of the Witwatersrand.
In 1944 he helped found the ANC Youth League, whose Programme
of Action was adopted by the ANC in 1949.
Mandela was elected national volunteer-in-chief of the 1952
Defiance Campaign. He travelled the country organising resistance to
He was given a suspended sentence for his part in the
campaign. Shortly afterwards a banning order confined him to
Johannesburg for six months. During this period he formulated the
"M Plan", in terms of which ANC branches were broken down into
By 1952 Mandela and Tambo had opened the first black legal
firm in the country, and Mandela was both Transvaal president of the ANC
and deputy national president.
A petition by the Transvaal Law Society to strike Mandela
off the roll of attorneys was refused by the Supreme Court.
In the 'fifties, after being forced through constant
bannings to resign officially from the ANC, Mandela analysed the
Bantustan policy as a political swindle. He predicted mass removals,
political persecutions and police terror.
For the second half of the 'fifties, he was one of the
accused in the Treason Trial. With Duma Nokwe, he conducted the defence.
When the ANC was banned after the Sharpeville massacre in
1960, he was detained until 1961 when he went underground to lead a
campaign for a new national convention.
Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC, was
born the same year. Under his leadership it launched a campaign of
sabotage against government and economic installations.
In 1962 Mandela left the country for military training in
Algeria and to arrange training for other MK members.
On his return he was arrested for leaving the country
illegally and for incitement to strike. He conducted his own defence. He
was convicted and jailed for five years in November 1962. While serving
his sentence, he was charged, in the Rivonia trial, with sabotage and
sentenced to life imprisonment.
A decade before being imprisoned, Mandela had spoken out
against the introduction of Bantu Education, recommending that community
activists "make every home, every shack or rickety structure a
centre of learning".
Robben Island, where he was imprisoned, became a centre for
learning, and Mandela was a central figure in the organised political
In prison Mandela never compromised his political
principles and was always a source of strength for the other prisoners.
During the 'seventies he refused the offer of a remission
of sentence if he recognised Transkei and settled there.
In the 'eighties he again rejected PW Botha's offer of
freedom if he renounced violence.
It is significant that shortly after his release on Sunday
11 February 1990, Mandela and his delegation agreed to the suspension of
Mandela has honorary degrees from more than 50
international universities and is chancellor of the University of the
He was inaugurated as the first democratically elected
State President of South Africa on 10 May 1994 - June 1999
Nelson Mandela retired from Public life in June 1999. He
currently resides in his birth place - Qunu, Transkei.