The African National Congress (ANC) party was born in a township church in 1912 and turns 100 years old on 8 January 2012 . That makes the party, the oldest liberation movement in Africa. The ANC was banned in 1960 by South Africa’s apartheid white minority government and its stalwart Nelson Mandela and others like Oliver Tambo were jailed for “subversive” activities. Nelson Mandela subsequently spent 27 years behind bars.
The ANC has come under enormous criticism from many quarters in South Africa, notably by its firebrand youth leader Julius Malema. Corruption, nepotism and croynism have all been levelled at the party. Predictions about its demise may be premature, however, perhaps it’s most ardent supporter still remains Nelson Mandela himself. He has never criticised the ANC.
The party’s future may be uncertain and subject to heated debates, however, what is certain is the moral fortitude and character of its former leader – Nelson Mandela. We, therefore, choose to celebrate this milestone in Africa’s party politics history by celebrating the life and achievements of the party’s moral compass – Nelson Mandela, the man who as leader of the ANC toppled apartheid.
Nelson Mandela: The Man Who Toppled apartheid
Probably the most famous South African ever, Nelson Mandela is an icon of tolerance and humanity. His life story is one of struggle, hardship and, ultimately, victory. How did this remarkable man become the saviour of a country that was nearly plunged into an orgy of violence and bloodshed? This article looks at how Mandela led a nation from the inhumane system of apartheid to liberation and reconciliation. Born in Qunu, a tiny rural village in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, had aristocratic blood running through his veins. His father, Henry Mandela, was the principal councillor to the paramount Tembu chief. This was no minor position – the Tembu was the largest tribe in the Transkei, which was to become one of apartheid South Africa’s hated ’bantustans’.
The death of Mandela’s father in 1930, when Nelson was only 12, meant he was placed under the guardianship of the acting paramount chief. Although he was being groomed to be a future chief, Mandela’s life was to take a rather different turn. He became embroiled in student politics at Fort Hare University College, and was expelled in 1940 after taking part in a strike.
This was the beginning of his long struggle against authority, although it was only a foretaste of what was to come. After leaving the Transkei, Mandela became a mine policeman in Johannesburg but his real interest lay in legal matters. His association with Walter Sisulu in this regard led to Mandela forming the first black legal partnership in South Africa, in December 1952. But the two
men had bigger fish to fry: they had already been instrumental in the forming of the African National Congress Youth League in 1944.
The African National Congress (ANC) started out as the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) in 1912, and was formed by middle class Africans who wanted more recognition from white society. At that point, black people could vote in many parts of the country, and they wanted this extended to the rest of South Africa. But in 1948, the Nationalist Party won control of the country and immediately imposed the policy of apartheid (or separate development), stripping blacks of their right to vote, among other rights.
The result was that by 1949, the national executive of the ANC was becoming increasingly vociferous in its complaints against white rule. Mandela was the key to uniting disaffected people behind a defiance campaign, which aimed to enlist volunteers to violate apartheid laws. However, this led to Mandela’s arrest in December 1952. He was given a suspended sentence and a banning order, although he continued to organise against the government.
It wasn’t long before Mandela was again in trouble with the law; in December 1956 he was arrested and charged with high treason, although he was declared not guilty in 1961. In the meantime, the ANC had been banned, so Mandela went underground and formed Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC, of which he became the first commander-in-chief.
Confrontation with the apartheid authorities was now inevitable, particularly as Mandela was openly calling for violence. After leaving the country illegally to address a conference in Addis Ababa, Mandela was arrested on his return, and jailed for incitement to violence. But during his incarceration, the police discovered Mandela’s diary which detailed his plans for a guerrilla struggle. He was accused of conspiracy to overthrow the state.
At the end of his trial, Mandela said that he had dedicated himself to the struggle of the African people, but that he had fought black domination as strongly as he’d fought domination by whites. He added that it was his ideal to see a democratic and free society in which all people would live in harmony and with the same opportunities.
Nonetheless, Mandela and his accomplices were jailed for life in June 1964; Mandela was to spend the next 27 years in prison, first at Robben Island, then, from April 1982, in Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town. He remained a thorn in the side of the apartheid regime, however. His followers now had a hero around whom they could rally, and calls for his release grew louder. Worse still, the country was plunged into a new bout of bloodshed, precipitated by the Soweto uprisings in 1986, as the black majority insisted on freedom from apartheid.
After the hawkish Nationalist President PW Botha was ousted by his own party in 1989, FW de Klerk, another conservative, took over as president. Despite his reputation, De Klerk was pragmatic and realistic, and after continuing a series of secret negotiations with Mandela and other ANC leaders, he announced on 2 February 1990 that the ANC was to be unbanned and Mandela released.
The world rejoiced at the beginning of the end of apartheid, and Mandela travelled to several countries on an international tour that saw him hailed as the global face of reconciliation. Although he’d spent a significant chunk of his life behind bars, he was determined to reassure South African whites that he would not seek revenge for apartheid.
Sadly, Mandela’s personal relationship with De Klerk deteriorated to the point that there was little trust left between them by the time Mandela was finally inaugurated as the President of South Africa in May 1994. Nonetheless, the part they played in bringing about a New South Africa proved that, when it mattered, South Africa’s leaders could put their differences aside for the common good.
In a world with very few iconic figures, Mandela is surely one of the greatest. By having the courage of his convictions, he overturned a cruel system of government and, in so doing, gave up much of his own life.