Happy 94th birthday to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, a living hero of our times and a man whose life has been dedicated to the militant struggle and activism against oppression not only in his home country of South Africa, but throughout the world.
“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.”
Nelson Mandela was born on July 18th, 1918, in the village of Mvezo, near Mthatha in the Transkei, South Africa.
Throughout the brutal racist Apartheid regime in South Africa, Mandela actively fought against the successive governments throughout this period.
In 1952, he was a prominent leader in the ANC’s (African National Congress) Defiance Campaign which involved a plan of national action to actively protest the unjust laws implemented by the white-ruling Apartheid system. As a result, Mandela and 8, 500 people were imprisoned. In 1955, he was part of The Congress of the People - a meeting held in Kliptown, Soweto that consisted of various anti-Apartheid organizations, that drafted The Freedom Charter.
Mandela had obtained a law degree from the University of Witswaterstrand and during this time, together with friend and fellow activist Oliver Tambo, provided free or low-cost legal counsel to black people who had been denied access to such information as a result of the highly oppressive racist system.
Despite his nonviolent approach, in 1956 Nelson Mandela and 150 others were arrested and charged with treason by the state government in what is known as the Treason Trial of 1956. The trial lasted until 1961 when all defendants were found non-guilty. The arrested consisted of 105 Africans, 21 Indians, 23 whites and 7 colored leaders of various anti-Apartheid organizations but were segregated racially whilst in jail. By the end of the trial, the 150 initially charged was whittled down to 30. Mandela was a part of the final 30 defendants.
Between 1963-1964, another trial took place in which ten members of the ANC were tried for 221 acts of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the Apartheid government. Mandela was once again arrested, along with notable ANC leaders and anti-Apartheid activists Walter Sisulu, Goven Mbeki (father of former President Thabo Mbeki), Lionel Bernstein and Denis Goldberg. This trial, known as the Rivonia Trial, resulted in eight of the accused sentenced to life in prison, two acquittals, with the final two having escaped from prison.
Nelson Mandela would spend 25 years and eight months in prison as a result the Rivonia tria, 18 in the infamous Robben Island jail, until his release in 1990.
South Africa’s first multi-racial democratic elections were held on the 17th of April, 1994 and as leader of the ANC, Nelson Mandela was elected as South Africa’s first black President, as well as the oldest elected President (he was 75 at the time).
Once his term came to an end in 1999, Mandela officially retired from politics.
Mandela has been married three times (he is currently married to Graca Machel), has fathered six children, has twenty grandchildren, and a growing number of great-grandchildren.
We wish you well, Madiba!