Nelson Rolihlahla MANDELA:

The Struggle Is My Life

"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."

Profile of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela:

Nelson Mandela's greatest pleasure, his most private moment, is watching the sun set with the music of Handel or Tchaikovsky playing.

Locked up in his cell during daylight hours, deprived of music, both these simple pleasures were denied him for decades. With his fellow prisoners, concerts were organized when possible, particularly at Christmas time, where they would sing. Nelson Mandela finds music very uplifting, and takes a keen interest not only in European classical music but also in African choral music and the many talents in South African music. But one voice stands out above all - that of Paul Robeson, whom he describes as our hero.

The years in jail reinforced habits that were already entrenched: the disciplined eating regime of an athlete began in the 1940s, as did the early morning exercise. Still today Nelson Mandela is up by 4.30am, irrespective of how late he has worked the previous evening. By 5am he has begun his exercise routine that lasts at least an hour. Breakfast is by 6.30, when the days newspapers are read. The day s work has begun.

With a standard working day of at least 12 hours, time management is critical and Nelson Mandela is extremely impatient with unpunctuality, regarding it as insulting to those you are dealing with.

When speaking of the extensive traveling he has undertaken since his release from prison, Nelson Mandela says: I was helped when preparing for my release by the biography of Pandit Nehru, who wrote of what happens when you leave jail. My daughter Zinzi says that she grew up without a father, who, when he returned, became a father of the nation. This has placed a great responsibility of my shoulders. And wherever I travel, I immediately begin to miss the familiar - the mine dumps, the color and smell that is uniquely South African, and, above all, the people. I do not like to be away for any length of time. For me, there is no place like home.

Mandela accepted the Nobel Peace Prize as an accolade to all people who have worked for peace and stood against racism. It was as much an award to his person as it was to the ANC and all South Africa s people. In particular, he regards it as a tribute to the people of Norway who stood against apartheid while many in the world were silent.

We know it was Norway that provided resources for farming; thereby enabling us to grow food; resources for education and vocational training and the provision of accommodation over the years in exile. The reward for all this sacrifice will be the attainment of freedom and democracy in South Africa, in an open society which respects the rights of all individuals. That goal is now in sight, and we have to thank the people and governments of Norway and Sweden for the tremendous role they played.

Personal Tastes

The Early Years:

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in a mud hut in a village near Umtata in Transkei South Africa on July 18, 1918. His father was the Tribal Chief of Thembuland and after his father 's death, the young Rolihlahla became the Paramount Chief's ward to be groomed to assume high office. However, influenced by the cases that came before the Chief's court, he was determined to become a lawyer. After hearing the elders' stories of his ancestor's valor during the wars of resistance in defense of their fatherland, he dreamed also of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of his people.

 After receiving a primary education at a local mission school, Nelson Mandela was sent to Healdtown, a reputable Wesleyan secondary school where he matriculated. After leaving school he then enrolled at an all black college, the University College of Fort Hare for a Bachelor of Arts Degree where he soon displayed his leadership qualities. After being elected to the Student's Representative Council, Mandela started to live up to his Xhosa name Rolihlahla, meaning "stirring up trouble", and joined a student boycott which resulted in his suspension from the college.

The Birth of a Freedom Fighter:

 After suspension from college, Mandela went to Johannesburg where he completed his BA by correspondence, took articles of clerkship and commenced study for his LLB. While studying in Johannesburg he entered politics in earnest by joining the African National Congress in 1942. At the height of World War II a small group of young Africans, members of the African National Congress, banded together under the leadership of Anton Lembede. Among them was William Nkomo, Walter Sisulu, Oliver R. Tambo, Ashby P. Mda and Nelson Mandela. These young people set themselves the formidable task of transforming the ANC into a mass movement, deriving its strength and motivation from the unlettered millions of working people in the towns and countryside, the peasants in the rural areas and the professionals.  Their chief contention was that the political tactics of the 'old guard' leadership of the ANC, reared in the tradition of constitutionals and polite petitioning of the government of the day, were proving inadequate for the tasks of national emancipation. In opposition to the 'old guard', Lembede and his colleagues espoused a radical African Nationalism grounded in the principle of national self-determination. In September 1944 they came together to found the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL).

 Mandela soon impressed his peers by his disciplined work and consistent effort; he soon rose through the ranks of the organization and was elected to the Secretaryship of the Youth League in 1947. By painstaking work, campaigning at the grassroots and through its mouthpiece Inyaniso' (Truth) the ANCYL was able to canvass support for its policies amongst ANC membership. Spurred on by the victory of the National Party which won the 1948 all-White elections on the platform of Apartheid, at the 1949 annual conference, the Program of Action, inspired by the Youth League, which advocated the weapons of boycott, strike, civil disobedience and non-co-operation was accepted as official ANC policy.

 A sub-committee of the ANCYL, which comprised of David Bopape, Ashby Mda, Nelson Mandela, James Njongwe, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, had drawn up the Program of Action. To ensure its implementation the membership replaced older leaders with a number of younger men. Walter Sisulu, a founding member of the Youth League was elected Secretary-General. The conservative Dr A.B. Xuma lost the presidency to Dr J.S. Moroka, a man with a reputation for greater militancy. The following year, 1950, at the national conference Mandela was elected to the NEC.

 The ANCYL program was aimed at the attainment of full citizenship and direct parliamentary representation for all South Africans. In the policy documents of which Mandela was an important co-author, the ANCYL paid special attention to the redistribution of the land, trade union rights, education and culture. The ANCYL also wanted free and compulsory education for all children, as well as mass education for adults. When the ANC launched its Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws in 1952, Mandela was elected the national Volunteer-in-Chief. The Defiance Campaign was conceived as a mass civil disobedience campaign that would snowball from a core of selected volunteers to involve more and more ordinary people, culminating in mass defiance. Fulfilling his responsibility as Volunteer-in-Chief, Mandela traveled the country organizing resistance to discriminatory legislation. Mandela was later charged and brought to trial for his role in the campaign. But the court found that Mandela and his co-accused had consistently advised their followers to adopt a peaceful course of action and to avoid all violence. But for his part in the Defiance Campaign, Mandela was convicted of contravening the Suppression of communism Act and was given a suspended prison sentence. Shortly after the campaign ended, he was also prohibited from attending gatherings and confined to Johannesburg for six months. Mandela continued his campaign and was promoted to become president of the ANC's Transval organization. However the government again acted to stop him. He was arrested along with 155 other ANC members in 1956 and charged with treason and promoting communism. The trial was to last 5 years. The ANC was in the dock and the government was determined to prove that it was a communist and revolutionary organization. It was during this trial, which Mandela dominated with his skill as a speaker and breadth of vision that he emerged as the ANC's most valued leader. He was eventually acquitted, but he knew his freedom was short-lived.

Professional Life:

 In 1952 during the period when Mandela was restricted, he wrote the attorneys admission examination and was admitted to the profession. He opened a practice in Johannesburg, in partnership with his friend Oliver Tambo; it was the country's first black law partnership. Of their law practice, Oliver Tambo, ANC National Chairman at the time of his death in April 1993, has written:

To reach our desks each morning Nelson and I ran the gauntlet of patient queues of people overflowing from the chairs in the waiting room into the corridors... To be landless (in South Africa) can be a crime, and weekly we interviewed the delegations of peasants who came to tell us how many generations their families had worked a little piece of land from which they were now being ejected... To live in the wrong area can be a crime... Our buff office files carried thousands of these stories and if, when we started our law partnership, we had not been rebels against apartheid, our experiences in our offices would have remedied the deficiency. We had risen to professional status in our community, but every case in court, every visit to the prisons to interview clients, reminded us of the humiliation and suffering burning into our people.

 However their professional status did not earn Mandela and Tambo any personal immunity from the brutal apartheid laws. They fell foul to the land segregation legislation, and the authorities demanded that they move their practice from the city to the back of beyond, as Mandela later put it, miles away from where clients could reach us during working hours. This was tantamount to asking us to abandon our legal practice, to give up the legal service of our people... No attorney worth his salt would easily agree to do that said Mandela and the partnership resolved to defy the law. Also the government was not alone in trying to frustrate Mandela' s legal practice. On the grounds of his conviction under the Suppression of Communism Act, the Transvaal Law Society petitioned the Supreme Court to strike him off the roll of attorneys. The petition was refused with Mr. Justice Ramsbottom finding that Mandela had been moved by a desire to serve his black fellow citizens and nothing he had done showed him to be unworthy to remain in the ranks of an honorable profession.

The Years Leading up to Imprisonment:

 During the early fifties Mandela played an important part in leading the resistance to the Western Areas and in the introduction of Bantu Education. He also played a significant role in popularizing the Freedom Charter that was adopted by the Congress of the People in 1955.

 In the late fifties, Mandela's attention turned to the struggles against the exploitation of labor, the pass laws, the nascent Bantustan policy, and the segregation of the open universities. Mandela arrived at the conclusion very early on that the Bantustan policy was a political swindle and an economic absurdity. He predicted with dismal prescience, that in the future there will be a grim program of mass evictions, political persecutions, and police terror. On the segregation of the universities, Mandela observed that the friendship and inter-racial harmony that is forged through the admixture and association of various racial groups at the mixed universities constitute a direct threat to the policy of apartheid and baasskap, and that it was to remove that threat that the open universities were being closed to black students.

During the whole of the fifties, Mandela was the victim of various forms of repression. He was banned, arrested and imprisoned. For much of the latter half of the decade, he was one of the accused in the mammoth Treason Trial, at great cost to his legal practice and his political work. Forced to live apart from his family, moving from place to place to evade detection by the governments' Ubiquitous informers and police spies, Mandela had to adopt a number of disguises. Sometimes dressed as a common laborer, at other times as a chauffeur, his successful evasion of the police earned him the title of the Black Pimpernel. It was during this time that he, together with other leaders of the ANC constituted a new specialized section of the liberation movement, Umkhonto we Sizwe, as an armed nucleus with a view to preparing for armed struggle. At the Rivonia trial, Mandela explained : "At the beginning of June 1961, after long and anxious assessment of the South African situation, I and some colleagues came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force."


In 1962 Mandela left the country unlawfully and traveled abroad for several months. In Ethiopia he addressed the Conference of the Pan African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa, and was warmly received by senior political leaders in several countries. During this trip Mandela, anticipating an intensification of the armed struggle, began to arrange guerrilla training for members of Umkhonto we Sizwe. Not long after his return to South Africa Mandela was arrested and charged with illegal exit from the country, and incitement to strike. Since he considered the prosecution a trial of the aspirations of the African people, Mandela decided to conduct his own defense. He applied for the recusal of the magistrate, on the grounds that in such a prosecution a judiciary controlled entirely by whites was an interested party and therefore could not be impartial. And also on the grounds that he owed no duty to obey the laws of a white parliament, in which he was not represented. Mandela prefaced this challenge with the affirmation: I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man.  

Prison Years:

Mandela was convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment. While serving his sentence he was charged, in the Rivonia Trial, with sabotage. Mandela s statements in court during these trials are classics in the history of the resistance to apartheid, and they have been an inspiration to all who have opposed it. His statement from the dock in the Rivonia Trial ends with these words:

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.

Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment and started his prison years in the notorious Robben Island Prison,

a maximum security prison on a small island 7Km off the coast near Cape Town. In April 1984 he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town and in December 1988 he was moved to the Victor Verster Prison near Paarl from where he was eventually released. While in prison, Mandela flatly rejected offers made by his jailers for remission of sentence in exchange for accepting the bantustan policy by recognizing the independence of the Transkei and agreeing to settle there. Again in the eighties Mandela rejected an offer of release on condition that he renounce violence. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Only free men can negotiate, he said.

 During his years in prison, Mandela 's reputation grew steadily. He was widely accepted as the most significant black leader in South Africa and became a potent symbol of resistance as the anti-apartheid movement gathered strength. He consistently refused to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom.

After Prison and his rise to Presidency:

Nelson Mandela was released from prison on 11 February 1990, and he plunged wholeheartedly into his life's work, striving to attain the goals he and others had set out almost four decades earlier. Today Mandela has honorary degrees from more than 50 international universities and is chancellor of the University of the North.


In 1991, at the first national conference of the ANC held inside South Africa after being banned for decades. Nelson Mandela was elected President of the ANC while his lifelong friend and colleague, Oliver Tambo, became the organization's National Chairperson.


 In a life that symbolizes the triumph of the human spirit over man s inhumanity to man, 

Nelson Mandela accepted the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of all South Africans who suffered and sacrificed so much to bring peace to our land.


In 1994 Mandela and the ANC started their campaign for the first all-race elections that the country ever had. In April, when the elections occurred, the ANC won a majority and Mandela was appointed president, the first black president ever in South Africa!


Nelson Mandela wants to make his country a symbol of reconciliation. Even though he has struggled long to achieve liberation from a white community, which rejected blacks, he wanted to include whites in the government. In 1995, these efforts culminated when a new South African constitution was approved. The new constitution banned all discrimination against minorities in the country, including whites.


Nelson Mandela retired from Public life in June 1999. He currently resides in his birth place - Qunu, Transkei.


 Nelson Mandela has never wavered in his devotion to democracy, equality and learning. Despite terrible provocation, he has never answered racism with racism. His life has been an inspiration, in South Africa and throughout the world, to all who are oppressed and deprived, to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation.  Mandela personifies struggle and today he is still leading the fight against apartheid with extraordinary resilience and vigor after spending nearly 3 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. All in all I think Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time. He is an international hero and is revered everywhere as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality.

The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom


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