BR OM AC CC OJ GCStJ QC GCH
|Mandela in Johannesburg, on 13 May 2008|
|1st President of South Africa|
10 May 1994 – 14 June 1999
F. W. de Klerk
|Preceded by||F. W. de Klerk
As State President
|Succeeded by||Thabo Mbeki|
18 July 1918
Mvezo, Cape Province, South Africa
|Died||5 December 2013 (aged 95)
Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa
|Resting place||Mandela Graveyard
Qunu, Eastern Cape
|Political party||African National Congress|
|South African Communist Party|
|Spouse(s)||Evelyn Ntoko Mase
(m. 1944–1957; divorced)
(m. 1958–1996; divorced)
(m. 1998–2013; his death)
|Known for||Anti-Apartheid Movement|
|Notable work(s)||Long Walk to Freedom|
Dalibhunga (initiation name)
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (/mænˈdɛlə/; Xhosa pronunciation: [xoˈliːɬaɬa manˈdeːla]; 18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was South Africa’s first black chief executive, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalised racism, poverty and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1991 to 1997. Internationally, Mandela was 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, he became involved in anti-colonial politics, joining the ANC and becoming a founding member of its Youth League. After the South African National Party came to power in 1948, he rose to prominence in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign, was appointed superintendent of the organisation’s Transvaal chapter and presided over the 1955 Congress of the People. Working as a lawyer, he was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities 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 initially committed to non-violent protest, in association with the SACP he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In 1962, he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.
Mandela served 27 years in prison, initially on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. An international campaign lobbied for his release. He was released in 1990, during a time of escalating civil strife. Mandela joined negotiations with President F. W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections in 1994, in which he led the ANC 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 measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty, and expand healthcare services. Internationally, he acted as mediator between Libya and the United Kingdom in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial, and oversaw 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 charitable work in combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Mandela was a controversial figure for much of his life. Denounced as a communist terrorist by critics, he nevertheless gained 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 deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba, or as Tata (“Father”); he is often described as the “Father of the Nation“.
Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in the village of Mvezo in Umtata, then a part of South Africa’s Cape Province. Given the forename Rolihlahla, a Xhosa term colloquially meaning “troublemaker”, in later years he became known by his clan name, Madiba. His patrilineal great-grandfather, Ngubengcuka, was ruler of the Thembu people in the Transkeian Territories of South Africa’s modern Eastern Cape province. One of this king’s sons, named Mandela, became Nelson’s grandfather and the source of his surname. Because Mandela was only the king’s child by a wife of the Ixhiba clan, a so-called “Left-Hand House”, the descendants of his cadet branch of the royal family were morganatic, ineligible to inherit the throne but recognised as hereditary royal councillors. His father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, was a local chief and councillor to the monarch; he had been appointed to the position in 1915, after his predecessor was accused of corruption by a governing white magistrate. In 1926, Gadla, too, was sacked for corruption, but Nelson was told that he had lost his job for standing up to the magistrate’s unreasonable demands. A devotee of the god Qamata, Gadla was a polygamist, having four wives, four sons and nine daughters, who lived in different villages. Nelson’s mother was Gadla’s third wife, Nosekeni Fanny, who was daughter of Nkedama of the Right Hand House and a member of the amaMpemvu clan of Xhosa.
“No one in my family had ever attended school […] On the first day of school my teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave each of us an English name. This was the custom among Africans in those days and was undoubtedly due to the British bias of our education. That day, Miss Mdingane told me that my new name was Nelson. Why this particular name I have no idea.”
Later stating that his early life was dominated by “custom, ritual and taboo”, Mandela grew up with two sisters in his mother’s kraal in the village of Qunu, where he tended herds as a cattle-boy, spending much time outside with other boys. Both his parents were illiterate, but being a devout Christian, his mother sent him to a local Methodist school when he was about seven. Baptised a Methodist, Mandela was given the English forename of “Nelson” by his teacher. When Mandela was about nine, his father came to stay at Qunu, where he died of an undiagnosed ailment which Mandela believed to be lung disease. Feeling “cut adrift”, he later said that he inherited his father’s “proud rebelliousness” and “stubborn sense of fairness”.
His mother took Mandela to the “Great Place” palace at Mqhekezweni, where he was entrusted under the guardianship of Thembu regent, Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo. Although he did not see his mother again for many years, Mandela felt that Jongintaba and his wife Noengland treated him as their own child, raising him alongside their son Justice and daughter Nomafu. As Mandela attended church services every Sunday with his guardians, Christianity became a significant part of his life. He attended a Methodist mission school located next to the palace, studying English, Xhosa, history and geography. He developed a love of African history, listening to the tales told by elderly visitors to the palace, and became influenced by the anti-imperialist rhetoric of Chief Joyi. At the time he nevertheless considered the European colonialists as benefactors, not oppressors. Aged 16, he, Justice and several other boys travelled to Tyhalarha to undergo the circumcision ritual that symbolically marked their transition from boys to men; the rite over, he was given the name Dalibunga.
Clarkebury, Healdtown, and Fort Hare: 1936–1940
Intending to gain skills needed to become a privy councillor for the Thembu royal house, Mandela began his secondary education at Clarkebury Boarding Institute in Engcobo, a Western-style institution that was the largest school for black Africans in Thembuland. Made to socialise with other students on an equal basis, he claimed that he lost his “stuck up” attitude, becoming best friends with a girl for the first time; he began playing sports and developed his lifelong love of gardening. Completing his Junior Certificate in two years, in 1937 he moved to Healdtown, the Methodist college in Fort Beaufort attended by most Thembu royalty, including Justice. The headmaster emphasised the superiority of English culture and government, but Mandela became increasingly interested in native African culture, making his first non-Xhosa friend, a Sotho language-speaker, and coming under the influence of one of his favourite teachers, a Xhosa who broke taboo by marrying a Sotho. Spending much of his spare time long-distance running and boxing, in his second year Mandela became a prefect.
With Jongintaba’s backing, Mandela began work on a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree at the University of Fort Hare, an elite black institution in Alice, Eastern Cape, with around 150 students. There he studied English, anthropology, politics, native administration, and Roman Dutch law in his first year, desiring to become an interpreter or clerk in the Native Affairs Department. Mandela stayed in the Wesley House dormitory, befriending his own kinsman, K.D. Matanzima, as well as Oliver Tambo, who became a close friend and comrade for decades to come. Continuing his interest in sport, Mandela took up ballroom dancing, performed in a drama society play about Abraham Lincoln, and gave Bible classes in the local community as part of the Students Christian Association. Although having friends connected to the African National Congress (ANC) and the anti-imperialist movement who wanted an independent South Africa, Mandela avoided any involvement, and became a vocal supporter of the British war effort when the Second World War broke out. Helping found a first-year students’ house committee which challenged the dominance of the second-years, at the end of his first year he became involved in a Students’ Representative Council (SRC) boycott against the quality of food, for which he was temporarily suspended from the university; he left without receiving a degree.
Arriving in Johannesburg: 1941–1943
Returning to Mqhekezweni in December 1940, Mandela found that Jongintaba had arranged marriages for him and Justice; dismayed, they fled to Johannesburg via Queenstown, arriving in April 1941. Mandela found work as a night watchman at Crown Mines, his “first sight of South African capitalism in action”, but was fired when the induna (headman) discovered he was a runaway. Staying with a cousin in George Goch Township, Mandela was introduced to the realtor and ANC activist Walter Sisulu, who secured him a job as an articled clerk at 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. Attending communist talks and parties, Mandela was impressed that Europeans, Africans, Indians and Coloureds were mixing as equals. He stated later 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. Becoming increasingly politicised, in August 1943 Mandela marched in support of a successful bus boycott to reverse fare rises. Continuing his higher education, Mandela signed up to a University of South Africa correspondence course, working on his bachelor’s degree at night.
Earning a small wage, Mandela rented a room in the house of the Xhoma family in the Alexandra township; although rife with poverty, crime and pollution, Alexandra always remained “a treasured place” for him. Although embarrassed by his poverty, he briefly courted a Swazi woman before unsuccessfully courting his landlord’s daughter. In order to save money and be closer to downtown Johannesburg, Mandela moved into the compound of the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association, living among miners of various tribes; as the compound was a “way station for visiting chiefs”, he once met the Queen Regent of Basutoland. In late 1941, Jongintaba visited, forgiving Mandela for running away. On returning to Thembuland, the regent died in winter 1942; Mandela and Justice arrived a day late for the funeral. After passing his BA exams in early 1943, 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 experienced no epiphany, but that he “simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.”
Law studies and the ANC Youth League: 1943–1949
Beginning law studies at the University of Witwatersrand, Mandela was the only native African student, and though facing racism, he befriended liberal and communist European, Jewish, and Indian students, among them Joe Slovo, Harry Schwarz and Ruth First. Joining the ANC, Mandela was increasingly influenced by Sisulu, spending much time with other activists at Sisulu’s Orlando house, including old friend Oliver Tambo. In 1943, Mandela met Anton Lembede, an African nationalist virulently opposed to a racially united front against colonialism and imperialism or to an alliance with the communists. Despite his friendships with non-blacks and communists, Mandela supported Lembede’s views, believing that black Africans should be entirely independent in their struggle for political self-determination. Deciding on the need for a youth wing to mass mobilise Africans in opposition to their subjugation, Mandela was among a delegation that approached ANC President Alfred Bitini Xuma on the subject at his home in Sophiatown; the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) was founded on Easter Sunday 1944 in the Bantu Men’s Social Centre in Eloff Street, with Lembede as President and Mandela as a member of the executive committee.
At Sisulu’s house, Mandela met Evelyn Mase, an ANC activist from Engcobo, Transkei, who was training at the time to become a nurse. Married on 5 October 1944, after initially living with her relatives, they rented House no. 8115 in Orlando from early 1946. Their first child, Madiba “Thembi” Thembekile, was born in February 1945, and a daughter named Makaziwe was born in 1947, dying nine months later of meningitis. Mandela enjoyed home life, welcoming his mother and sister Leabie to stay with him. In early 1947, his three years of articles ended at Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman, and he decided to become a full-time student, subsisting on loans from the Bantu Welfare Trust.
In July 1947, Mandela rushed Lembede, who was ill, to hospital, where he died; he was succeeded as ANCYL president by the more moderate Peter Mda, who agreed to co-operate with communists and non-blacks, appointing Mandela ANCYL secretary. Mandela disagreed with Mda’s approach, in December 1947 supporting an unsuccessful measure to expel communists from the ANCYL, considering their ideology un-African. In 1947, Mandela was elected to the executive committee of the Transvaal ANC, serving under regional president C.S. Ramohanoe. When Ramohanoe acted against the wishes of the Transvaal Executive Committee by co-operating with Indians and communists, Mandela was one of those who forced his resignation.
In the South African general election, 1948, in which only whites were permitted to vote, the Afrikaner-dominated Herenigde Nasionale Party under Daniel François Malan took power, soon uniting with the Afrikaner Party to form the National Party. Openly racialist, the party codified and expanded racial segregation with the new apartheid legislation. Gaining increasing influence in the ANC, Mandela and his cadres began advocating direct action against apartheid, such as boycotts and strikes, influenced by the tactics of South Africa’s Indian community. Xuma did not support these measures and was removed from the presidency in a vote of no confidence, replaced by James Moroka and a more militant cabinet containing Sisulu, Mda, Tambo and Godfrey Pitje; Mandela later related that “We had now guided the ANC to a more radical and revolutionary path.” Having devoted his time to politics, Mandela failed his final year at Witwatersrand three times; he was ultimately denied his degree in December 1949.
Defiance Campaign and Transvaal ANC Presidency: 1950–1954
Mandela took Xuma’s place on the ANC National Executive in March 1950. That month, the Defend Free Speech Convention was held in Johannesburg, bringing together African, Indian and communist activists to call an anti-apartheid general strike. Mandela opposed the strike because it was not ANC-led, but a majority of black workers took part, resulting in increased police repression and the introduction of the Suppression of Communism Act, 1950, affecting the actions of all protest groups. In 1950, Mandela was elected national president of the ANCYL; at the ANC national conference of December 1951, he continued arguing against a racially united front, but was outvoted. Thenceforth, he altered his entire perspective, embracing such an approach; influenced by friends like Moses Kotane and by the Soviet Union‘s support for wars of independence, Mandela’s mistrust of communism also broke down. He became influenced by the texts of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, and embraced dialectical materialism. In April 1952, Mandela began work at the H.M. Basner law firm, though his increasing commitment to work and activism meant he spent less time with his family.
In 1952, the ANC began preparation for a joint Defiance Campaign against apartheid with Indian and communist groups, founding a National Voluntary Board to recruit volunteers. Deciding on a path of nonviolent resistance influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, some considered it the ethical option, but Mandela instead considered it pragmatic. At a Durban rally on 22 June, Mandela addressed an assembled crowd of 10,000, initiating the campaign protests, for which he was arrested and briefly interned in Marshall Square prison. With further protests, the ANC’s membership grew from 20,000 to 100,000; the government responded with mass arrests, introducing the Public Safety Act, 1953 to permit martial law. In May, authorities banned Transvaal ANC President J. B. Marks from making public appearances; unable to maintain his position, he recommended Mandela as his successor. Although the ultra-Africanist Bafabegiya group opposed his candidacy, Mandela was elected regional president in October.
On 30 July 1952, Mandela was arrested under the Suppression of Communism Act and stood trial as a part of the 21 accused – among them Moroka, Sisulu and Dadoo – in Johannesburg. Found guilty of “statutory communism”, their sentence of nine months’ hard labour was suspended for two years. In December, Mandela was given a six-month ban from attending meetings or talking to more than one individual at a time, making his Transvaal ANC presidency impractical. The Defiance Campaign petered out. In September 1953, Andrew Kunene read out Mandela’s “No Easy Walk to Freedom” speech at a Transvaal ANC meeting; the title was taken from a quote by Indian independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru, a seminal influence on Mandela’s thought. The speech laid out a contingency plan for a scenario in which the ANC was banned. This Mandela Plan, or M-Plan, involved dividing the organisation into a cell structure with a more centralised leadership.
Mandela obtained work as an attorney for the firm Terblanche and Briggish, before moving to the liberal-run Helman and Michel, passing qualification exams to become a full-fledged attorney. In August 1953, Mandela and Oliver Tambo opened their own law firm, Mandela and Tambo, operating in downtown Johannesburg. The only African-run law firm in the country, it was popular with aggrieved blacks, often dealing with cases of police brutality. Disliked by the authorities, the firm was forced to relocate to a remote location after their office permit was removed under the Group Areas Act; as a result, their custom dwindled. Though a second daughter, Makaziwe Phumia, was born in May 1954, Mandela’s relationship with Evelyn became strained, and she accused him of adultery. Evidence has emerged indicating that he was having affairs with ANC member Lillian Ngoyi and secretary Ruth Mompati; persistent but unproven claims assert that the latter bore Mandela a child. Disgusted by her son’s behaviour, Nosekeni returned to Transkei, and Evelyn embraced the Jehovah’s Witnesses and rejected Mandela’s obsession with politics.
Congress of the People and the Treason Trial: 1955–1961
“We, the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know:
That South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.”
Mandela came to the opinion that the ANC “had no alternative to armed and violent resistance” after taking part in the unsuccessful protest to prevent the demolition of the all-black Sophiatown suburb of Johannesburg in February 1955. He advised Sisulu to request weaponry from the People’s Republic of China, but though supporting the anti-apartheid struggle, China’s government believed the movement insufficiently prepared for guerilla warfare. With the involvement of the South African Indian Congress, the Coloured People’s Congress, the South African Congress of Trade Unions and the Congress of Democrats, the ANC planned a Congress of the People, calling on all South Africans to send in proposals for a post-apartheid era. Based on the responses, a Freedom Charter was drafted by Rusty Bernstein, calling for the creation of a democratic, non-racialist state with the nationalisation of major industry. When the charter was adopted at a June 1955 conference in Kliptown attended by 3000 delegates, police cracked down on the event, but it remained a key part of Mandela’s ideology.
Following the end of a second ban in September 1955, Mandela went on a working holiday to Transkei to discuss the implications of the Bantu Authorities Act, 1951 with local tribal leaders, also visiting his mother and Noengland before proceeding to Cape Town. In March 1956 he received his third ban on public appearances, restricting him to Johannesburg for five years, but he often defied it. His marriage broke down as Evelyn left Mandela, taking their children to live with her brother. Initiating divorce proceedings in May 1956, she claimed that Mandela had physically abused her; he denied the allegations, and fought for custody of their children. She withdrew her petition of separation in November, but Mandela filed for divorce in January 1958; the divorce was finalised in March, with the children placed in Evelyn’s care. During the divorce proceedings, he began courting and politicising a social worker, Winnie Madikizela, who he married in Bizana on 14 June 1958. She later became involved in ANC activities, spending several weeks in prison.
On 5 December 1956, Mandela was arrested alongside most of the ANC Executive for “high treason” against the state. Held in Johannesburg Prison amid mass protests, they underwent a preparatory examination in Drill Hall on 19 December, before being granted bail. The defence’s refutation began on 9 January 1957, overseen by defence lawyer Vernon Berrangé, and continued until adjourning in September. In January 1958, judge Oswald Pirow was appointed to the case, and in February he ruled that there was “sufficient reason” for the defendants to go on trial in the Transvaal Supreme Court. The formal Treason Trial began in Pretoria in August 1958, with the defendants successfully applying to have the three judges – all linked to the governing National Party – replaced. In August, one charge was dropped, and in October the prosecution withdrew its indictment, submitting a reformulated version in November which argued that the ANC leadership committed high treason by advocating violent revolution, a charge the defendants denied.
In April 1959, militant Africanists dissatisfied with the ANC’s united front approach founded the Pan-African Congress (PAC); Mandela’s friend Robert Sobukwe was elected president, though Mandela thought the group “immature”. Both parties campaigned for an anti-pass campaign in May 1960, in which Africans burned the passes that they were legally obliged to carry. One of the PAC-organised demonstrations was fired upon by police, resulting in the deaths of 69 protesters in the Sharpeville massacre. In solidarity, Mandela publicly burned his pass as rioting broke out across South Africa, leading the government to proclaim martial law. Under the State of Emergency measures, Mandela and other activists were arrested on 30 March, imprisoned without charge in the unsanitary conditions of the Pretoria Local prison, and the ANC and PAC were banned in April. This made it difficult for their lawyers to reach them, and it was agreed that the defence team for the Treason Trial should withdraw in protest. Representing themselves in court, the accused were freed from prison when the state of emergency was lifted in late August. Mandela used his free time to organise an All-In African Conference near Pietermaritzburg, Natal, in March, at which 1,400 anti-apartheid delegates met, agreeing on a stay-at-home protest to mark 31 May, the day South Africa became a republic. On 29 March 1961, after a six-year trial, the judges produced a verdict of not guilty, embarrassing the government.
MK, the SACP, and African tour: 1961–1962
Disguised as a chauffeur, Mandela travelled the country incognito, organising the ANC’s new cell structure and a mass stay-at-home strike for 29 May. Referred to as the “Black Pimpernel” in the press – a reference to Emma Orczy‘s 1905 novel The Scarlet Pimpernel – the police put out a warrant for his arrest. Mandela held secret meetings with reporters, and after the government failed to prevent the strike, he warned them that many anti-apartheid activists would soon resort to violence through groups like the PAC’s Poqo. He believed that the ANC should form an armed group to channel some of this violence, convincing both ANC leader Albert Luthuli – who was morally opposed to violence – and allied activist groups of its necessity.
Inspired by Fidel Castro‘s 26th of July Movement in the Cuban Revolution, in 1961 Mandela co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”, abbreviated MK) with the long-time leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP), Joe Slovo and Walter Sisulu. Becoming chairman of the militant group, he gained ideas from illegal literature on guerilla warfare by Mao and Che Guevara. Officially separate from the ANC, in later years MK became the group’s armed wing. Most early MK members were white communists; after hiding in communist Wolfie Kodesh’s flat in Berea, Mandela moved to the communist-owned Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, there joined by Raymond Mhlaba, Slovo and Bernstein, who put together the MK constitution. Although Mandela himself denied ever being a member of the SACP, historical research published in 2011 strongly suggested that he might have been for a short period, starting from the late 1950s or early 1960s. This was confirmed after his death by the SACP and the ANC. According to the SACP, he was not only a member of the party, but also served on the party’s Central Committee, when he was arrested in 1962 and this was denied for political reasons.
Operating through a cell structure, MK agreed to acts of sabotage to exert maximum pressure on the government with minimum casualties, bombing military installations, power plants, telephone lines and transport links at night, when civilians were not present. Mandela stated that they chose sabotage not only because it was the least harmful action, but also “because it did not involve loss of life [and] it offered the best hope for reconciliation among the races afterward.” He noted that “strict instructions were given to members of MK that we would countenance no loss of life”, but should these tactics fail, MK would resort to “guerilla warfare and terrorism”. Soon after ANC leader Luthuli was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, MK publicly announced its existence with 57 bombings on Dingane’s Day (16 December) 1961, followed by further attacks on New Year’s Eve.
The ANC agreed to send Mandela as a delegate to the February 1962 Pan-African Freedom Movement for East, Central and Southern Africa (PAFMECSA) meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Traveling there in secret, Mandela met with Emperor Haile Selassie I, and gave his speech after Selassie’s at the conference. After the conference, he travelled to Cairo, Egypt, admiring the political reforms of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and then went to Tunis, Tunisia, where President Habib Bourguiba gave him £5000 for weaponry. He proceeded to Morocco, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Senegal, receiving funds from Liberian President William Tubman and Guinean President Ahmed Sékou Touré. Leaving Africa for London, England, he met anti-apartheid activists, reporters and prominent leftist politicians. Returning to Ethiopia, he began a six-month course in guerrilla warfare, but completed only two months before being recalled to South Africa.
Arrest and Rivonia trial: 1962–1964
On 5 August 1962, police captured Mandela along with Cecil Williams near Howick. A large number of groups have been accused of having tipped off the police about Mandela’s whereabouts including Mandela’s host in Durban GR Naidoo, white members of the South African Communist Party, and the CIA, but Mandela considered none of these connections to be credible and instead attributes his arrest to his own carelessness in concealing his movements. Of the CIA link in particular, Mandela’s official biographer Anthony Sampson believes that “the claim cannot be substantiated.” Jailed in Johannesburg’s Marshall Square prison, he was charged with inciting workers’ strikes and leaving the country without permission. Representing himself with Slovo as legal advisor, Mandela intended to use the trial to showcase “the ANC’s moral opposition to racism” while supporters demonstrated outside the court. Moved to Pretoria, where Winnie could visit him, in his cell he began correspondence studies for a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from the University of London. His hearing began on 15 October, but he disrupted proceedings by wearing a traditional kaross, refusing to call any witnesses, and turning his plea of mitigation into a political speech. Found guilty, he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment; as he left the courtroom, supporters sang Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika.
“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
On 11 July 1963, police raided Liliesleaf Farm, arresting those they found there and uncovering paperwork documenting MK’s activities, some of which mentioned Mandela. The Rivonia Trial began at Pretoria Supreme Court on 9 October, with Mandela and his comrades charged with four counts of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government. Their chief prosecutor was Percy Yutar, who called for them to receive the death penalty. Judge Quartus de Wet soon threw out the prosecution’s case for insufficient evidence, but Yutar reformulated the charges, presenting his new case from December until February 1964, calling 173 witnesses and bringing thousands of documents and photographs to the trial.
With the exception of James Kantor, who was innocent of all charges, Mandela and the accused admitted sabotage but denied that they had ever agreed to initiate guerilla war against the government. They used the trial to highlight their political cause. At the opening of the defence’s proceedings, Mandela gave a three-hour speech. That speech – which was inspired by Castro’s “History Will Absolve Me” speech – was widely reported in the press despite official censorship, and has been hailed as one of his greatest speeches. The trial gained international attention, with global calls for the release of the accused from such institutions as the United Nations and World Peace Council. The University of London Union voted Mandela to its presidency, and nightly vigils for him were held in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. The South African government generally deemed Mandela and his co-defendants violent communist saboteurs, and on 12 June 1964, justice Quartus de Wet found Mandela and two of his co-accused guilty on all four charges, sentencing them to life imprisonment rather than death.
Robben Island: 1964–1982
Mandela and his co-accused were transferred from Pretoria to the prison on Robben Island, remaining there for the next 18 years. Isolated from non-political prisoners in Section B, 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 to sleep. Verbally and physically harassed by several white prison wardens, the Rivonia Trial prisoners spent their days breaking rocks into gravel, until being reassigned 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 worked on his LLB degree, but newspapers were forbidden, and he was locked in solitary confinement on several occasions for possessing smuggled news clippings. Classified as the lowest grade of prisoner, Class D, he was permitted one visit and one letter every six months, although all mail was heavily censored.
The political prisoners took part in work and hunger strikes – the latter considered largely ineffective by Mandela – to improve prison conditions, viewing this as a microcosm of the anti-apartheid struggle. 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 political prisoners on the island, Ulundi, through which he forged links with PAC and Yu Chi Chan Club members. Initiating the “University of Robben Island”, whereby prisoners lectured on their own areas of expertise, he debated topics such as homosexuality and politics with his comrades, getting into fierce arguments on the latter with Marxists like Mbeki and Harry Gwala. Though attending Christian Sunday services, 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 Mandela; most significant was the liberal parliamentary representative Helen Suzman of the Progressive Party, who championed Mandela’s cause outside prison. In September 1970 he met British Labour Party MP Dennis Healey. South African Minister of Justice Jimmy Kruger visited in December 1974, but he and Mandela did not get on. His mother visited in 1968, dying shortly after, and his firstborn son Thembi died in a car accident the following year; Mandela was forbidden from attending either funeral. His wife was rarely able to visit, being regularly imprisoned for political activity, and his daughters first visited in December 1975; Winnie got out of prison in 1977 but was forcibly settled in Brandfort, still unable to visit him.
From 1967, prison conditions improved; black prisoners were given trousers rather than shorts, games were permitted, 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 Mandela was developed by Gordon Bruce, but it was abandoned after being infiltrated by an agent of the South African Bureau of State Security (BOSS), who hoped to see Mandela shot during the escape. In 1970, Commander Piet Badenhorst became commanding officer. Mandela, seeing an increase in the physical and mental abuse of prisoners, complained to visiting judges, who had Badenhorst reassigned. He was replaced by Commander Willie Willemse, who developed a co-operative relationship with Mandela and was keen to improve prison standards.
By 1975, Mandela had become a Class A prisoner, allowing greater numbers of visits and letters; he corresponded with anti-apartheid activists like Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Desmond Tutu. That year, he began his autobiography, which was smuggled to London, but remained unpublished at the time; prison authorities discovered several pages, and his study privileges were stopped for four years. Instead he devoted his spare time to gardening and reading until he resumed his LLB degree studies in 1980.
By the late 1960s, Mandela’s fame had been eclipsed by Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). Seeing the ANC as ineffectual, the BCM called for militant action, but following the Soweto uprising of 1976, many BCM activists were imprisoned on Robben Island. 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 journalist Percy Qoboza, sparking an international campaign that led the UN Security Council to call for his release. Despite increasing foreign pressure, the government refused, relying on powerful foreign Cold War allies in US President Ronald Reagan and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; both considered Mandela a communist terrorist and supported the suppression of the ANC.
Pollsmoor Prison: 1982–1988
In April 1982 Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Tokai, Cape Town along with senior ANC leaders Walter Sisulu, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Raymond Mhlaba; they believed that they were being isolated to remove their influence on younger activists. Conditions at Pollsmoor were better than at Robben Island, although Mandela missed the camaraderie and scenery of the island. Getting on well with Pollsmoor’s commanding officer, Brigadier Munro, Mandela was permitted to create a roof garden, also reading voraciously and corresponding widely, now permitted 52 letters a year. He was appointed patron of the multi-racial United Democratic Front (UDF), founded to combat reforms implemented by South African President P. W. Botha. Botha’s National Party government had permitted Coloured and Indian citizens to vote for their own parliaments which had control over education, health, and housing, but black Africans were excluded from the system; like Mandela, the UDF saw this as an attempt to divide the anti-apartheid movement on racial lines.
Violence across the country escalated, with many fearing civil war. Under pressure from an international lobby, multinational banks stopped investing in South Africa, resulting in economic stagnation. Numerous banks and Thatcher asked Botha to release Mandela – then at the height of his international fame – to defuse the volatile situation. Although considering Mandela a dangerous “arch-Marxist”, in February 1985 Botha offered him a release from prison on condition that he ‘”unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon”. Mandela spurned the offer, releasing a statement through his daughter Zindzi stating “What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people [ANC] remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”
In 1985 Mandela underwent surgery on an enlarged prostate gland, before being given new solitary quarters on the ground floor. He was met by “seven eminent persons”, an international delegation sent to negotiate a settlement, but Botha’s government refused to co-operate, in June calling a state of emergency and initiating a police crackdown on unrest. The anti-apartheid resistance fought back, with the ANC committing 231 attacks in 1986 and 235 in 1987. Utilising the army and right-wing paramilitaries to combat the resistance, the government secretly funded Zulu nationalist movement Inkatha to attack ANC members, furthering the violence. Mandela requested talks with Botha but was denied, instead secretly meeting with Minister of Justice Kobie Coetsee in 1987, having a further 11 meetings over 3 years. Coetsee organised negotiations between Mandela and a team of four government figures starting in May 1988; the team agreed to the release of political prisoners and the legalisation of the ANC on the condition that they permanently renounce violence, break links with the Communist Party and not insist on majority rule. Mandela rejected these conditions, insisting that the ANC would only end the armed struggle when the government renounced violence.
Mandela’s 70th birthday in July 1988 attracted international attention, notably with the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert at London’s Wembley Stadium. Although presented globally as a heroic figure, he faced personal problems when ANC leaders informed him that Winnie had set herself up as head of a criminal gang, the “Mandela United Football Club”, who had been responsible for torturing and killing opponents – including children – in Soweto. Though some encouraged him to divorce her, he decided to remain loyal until she was found guilty by trial.
Victor Verster Prison and release: 1988–1990
Recovering from tuberculosis exacerbated by the dank conditions in his cell, in December 1988 Mandela was moved to Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. Here, he was housed in the relative comfort of a warder’s house with a personal cook, using the time to complete his LLB degree. There he was permitted many visitors, such as anti-apartheid campaigner and longtime friend Harry Schwarz. Mandela organised secret communications with exiled ANC leader Oliver Tambo. In 1989, Botha suffered a stroke, retaining the state presidency but stepping down as leader of the National Party, to be replaced by the conservative F. W. de Klerk. In a surprise move, Botha invited Mandela to a meeting over tea in July 1989, an invitation Mandela considered genial. Botha was replaced as state president by de Klerk six weeks later; the new president believed that apartheid was unsustainable and unconditionally released all ANC prisoners except Mandela. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, de Klerk called his cabinet together to debate legalising the ANC and freeing Mandela. Although some were deeply opposed to his plans, de Klerk met with Mandela in December to discuss the situation, a meeting both men considered friendly, before releasing Mandela unconditionally and legalising all formerly banned political parties on 2 February 1990. Shortly thereafter, for the first time in 20 years, photographs of Mandela were allowed to be published in South Africa.
Leaving Victor Verster on 11 February, Mandela held Winnie’s hand in front of amassed crowds and press; the event was broadcast live across the world. Driven to Cape Town’s City Hall through crowds, he gave a speech declaring his commitment to peace and reconciliation with the white minority, but made it clear that the ANC’s armed struggle was not over, and would continue as “a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid.” He expressed hope that the government would agree to negotiations, so that “there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle”, and insisted that his main focus was to bring peace to the black majority and give them the right to vote in national and local elections. Staying at the home of Desmond Tutu, in the following days Mandela met with friends, activists, and press, giving a speech to 100,000 people at Johannesburg’s Soccer City.
End of apartheid
Early negotiations: 1990–1991
Mandela proceeded on an African tour, meeting supporters and politicians in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Libya and Algeria, continuing to Sweden where he was reunited with Tambo, and then London, where he appeared at the Nelson Mandela: An International Tribute for a Free South Africa concert in Wembley Stadium. Encouraging foreign countries to support sanctions against the apartheid government, in France he was welcomed by President François Mitterrand, in Vatican City by Pope John Paul II, and in the United Kingdom he met Margaret Thatcher. In the United States, he met President George H.W. Bush, addressed both Houses of Congress and visited eight cities, being particularly popular among the African-American community. In Cuba he met President Fidel Castro, whom he had long admired, with the two becoming friends. He met President R. Venkataraman in India, President Suharto in Indonesia, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia, Prime Minister Bob Hawke in Australia, and Japan; he did not visit the Soviet Union, a longtime ANC supporter.
In May 1990, Mandela led a multiracial ANC delegation into preliminary negotiations with a government delegation of 11 Afrikaner men. Mandela impressed them with his discussions of Afrikaner history, and the negotiations led to the Groot Schuur Minute, in which the government lifted the state of emergency. In August Mandela – recognising the ANC’s severe military disadvantage – offered a ceasefire, the Pretoria Minute, for which he was widely criticised by MK activists. He spent much time trying to unify and build the ANC, appearing at a Johannesburg conference in December attended by 1600 delegates, many of whom found him more moderate than expected. At the ANC’s July 1991 national conference in Durban, Mandela admitted the party’s faults and announced his aim to build a “strong and well-oiled task force” for securing majority rule. At the conference, he was elected ANC President, replacing the ailing Tambo, and a 50-strong multiracial, mixed gendered national executive was elected.
Mandela was given an office in the newly purchased ANC headquarters at Shell House, central Johannesburg, and moved with Winnie to her large Soweto home. Their marriage was increasingly strained as he learned of her affair with Dali Mpofu, but he supported her during her trial for kidnapping and assault. He gained funding for her defence from the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa and from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, but in June 1991 she was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison, reduced to two on appeal. On 13 April 1992, Mandela publicly announced his separation from Winnie. The ANC forced her to step down from the national executive for misappropriating ANC funds; Mandela moved into the mostly white Johannesburg suburb of Houghton. Mandela’s reputation was further damaged by the increase in “black-on-black” violence, particularly between ANC and Inkatha supporters in KwaZulu-Natal, in which thousands died. Mandela met with Inkatha leader Buthelezi, but the ANC prevented further negotiations on the issue. Mandela recognised that there was a “third force” within the state intelligence services fuelling the “slaughter of the people” and openly blamed de Klerk – whom he increasingly distrusted – for the Sebokeng massacre. In September 1991 a national peace conference was held in Johannesburg in which Mandela, Buthelezi and de Klerk signed a peace accord, though the violence continued.
CODESA talks: 1991–1992
The Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) began in December 1991 at the Johannesburg World Trade Center, attended by 228 delegates from 19 political parties. Although Cyril Ramaphosa led the ANC’s delegation, Mandela remained a key figure, and after de Klerk used the closing speech to condemn the ANC’s violence, he took to the stage to denounce de Klerk as “head of an illegitimate, discredited minority regime”. Dominated by the National Party and ANC, little negotiation was achieved. CODESA 2 was held in May 1992, in which de Klerk insisted that post-apartheid South Africa must use a federal system with a rotating presidency to ensure the protection of ethnic minorities; Mandela opposed this, demanding a unitary system governed by majority rule. Following the Boipatong massacre of ANC activists by government-aided Inkatha militants, Mandela called off the negotiations, before attending a meeting of the Organisation of African Unity in Senegal, at which he called for a special session of the UN Security Council and proposed that a UN peacekeeping force be stationed in South Africa to prevent “state terrorism“. The UN sent special envoy Cyrus Vance to the country to aid negotiations. Calling for domestic mass action, in August the ANC organised the largest-ever strike in South African history, and supporters marched on Pretoria.
Following the Bisho massacre, in which 28 ANC supporters and one soldier were shot dead by the Ciskei Defence Force during a protest march, Mandela realised that mass action was leading to further violence and resumed negotiations in September. He agreed to do so on the conditions that all political prisoners be released, that Zulu traditional weapons be banned, and that Zulu hostels would be fenced off, the latter two measures to prevent further Inkatha attacks; under increasing pressure, de Klerk reluctantly agreed. The negotiations agreed that a multiracial general election would be held, resulting in a five-year coalition government of national unity and a constitutional assembly that gave the National Party continuing influence. The ANC also conceded to safeguarding the jobs of white civil servants; such concessions brought fierce internal criticism. The duo agreed on an interim constitution, guaranteeing separation of powers, creating a constitutional court, and including a US-style bill of rights; it also divided the country into nine provinces, each with its own premier and civil service, a concession between de Klerk’s desire for federalism and Mandela’s for unitary government.
The democratic process was threatened by the Concerned South Africans Group (COSAG), an alliance of far-right Afrikaner parties and black ethnic-secessionist groups like Inkatha; in June 1993, the white supremacist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) attacked the Kempton Park World Trade Centre. Following the murder of ANC leader Chris Hani, Mandela made a publicised speech to calm rioting, soon after appearing at a mass funeral in Soweto for Tambo, who had died from a stroke. In July 1993, both Mandela and de Klerk visited the US, independently meeting President Bill Clinton and each receiving the Liberty Medal. Soon after, they were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway. Influenced by young ANC leader Thabo Mbeki, Mandela began meeting with big business figures, and played down his support for nationalisation, fearing that he would scare away much-needed foreign investment. Although criticised by socialist ANC members, he was encouraged to embrace private enterprise by members of the Chinese and Vietnamese Communist parties at the January 1992 World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Mandela also made a cameo appearance as a schoolteacher reciting one of Malcolm X‘s speeches in the final scene of the 1992 film Malcolm X.
General election: 1994
With the election set for 27 April 1994, the ANC began campaigning, opening 100 election offices and hiring advisor Stanley Greenberg. Greenberg orchestrated the foundation of People’s Forums across the country, at which Mandela could appear. He was a popular figure with great status among black South Africans. The ANC campaigned on a Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) to build a million houses in five years, introduce universal free education and extend access to water and electricity. The party’s slogan was “a better life for all”, although it was not explained how this development would be funded. With the exception of the Weekly Mail and the New Nation, South Africa’s press opposed Mandela’s election, fearing continued ethnic strife, instead supporting the National or Democratic Party. Mandela devoted much time to fundraising for the ANC, touring North America, Europe and Asia to meet wealthy donors, including former supporters of the apartheid regime. He also urged a reduction in the voting age from 18 to 14; rejected by the ANC, this policy became the subject of ridicule.
Concerned that COSAG would undermine the election, particularly in the wake of the Battle of Bop and Shell House Massacre – incidents of violence involving the AWB and Inkatha, respectively – Mandela met with Afrikaner 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 leaders of the two major parties, de Klerk and Mandela appeared on a televised debate; although de Klerk was widely considered the better speaker at the event, Mandela’s offer to shake his hand surprised him, leading some commentators to consider it a victory for Mandela. The election went ahead with little violence, although an AWB cell killed 20 with car bombs. As widely expected, the ANC won a sweeping victory, taking 62 percent of the vote, just short of the two-thirds majority needed to unilaterally change the constitution. The ANC was also victorious in 7 provinces, with Inkatha and the National Party each taking another. Mandela voted at the Ohlange High School in Durban, and though the ANC’s victory assured his election as President, he publicly accepted that the election had been marred by instances of fraud and sabotage.
Presidency of South Africa: 1994–1999
The newly elected National Assembly’s first act was to formally elect Mandela as South Africa’s first black chief executive. His inauguration took place in Pretoria on 10 May 1994, televised to a billion viewers globally. The event was attended by 4000 guests, including world leaders from disparate backgrounds. Mandela headed a Government of National Unity dominated by the ANC – which alone had no experience of governance – but containing representatives from the National Party and Inkatha. Under the Interim Constitution, Inkatha and the NP were entitled to seats in the government by virtue of winning at least 20 seats. In keeping with earlier agreements, de Klerk became first Deputy President, and Thabo Mbeki was selected as second. Although Mbeki had not been his first choice for the job, Mandela grew to rely heavily on him throughout his presidency, allowing him to organise policy details. Moving into the presidential office at Tuynhuys in Cape Town, Mandela allowed de Klerk to retain the presidential residence in the Groote Schuur estate, instead settling into the nearby Westbrooke manor, which he renamed “Genadendal“, meaning “Valley of Mercy” in Afrikaans. Retaining his Houghton home, he also had a house built in his home village of Qunu, which he visited regularly, walking around the area, meeting with locals, and judging tribal disputes.
Aged 76, he faced various ailments, and although exhibiting continued energy, he felt isolated and lonely. He often entertained celebrities, such as Michael Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg, and the Spice Girls, and befriended ultra-rich businessmen, like Harry Oppenheimer of Anglo-American, as well as Queen Elizabeth II on her March 1995 state visit to South Africa, resulting in strong criticism from ANC anti-capitalists. Despite his opulent surroundings, Mandela lived simply, donating a third of his 552,000 rand annual income to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, which he had founded in 1995. Although speaking out in favour of freedom of the press and befriending many journalists, Mandela was critical of much of the country’s media, noting that it was overwhelmingly owned and run by middle-class whites and believing that it focused too much on scaremongering around crime. Changing clothes several times a day, after assuming the presidency, one of Mandela’s trademarks was his use of Batik shirts, known as “Madiba shirts“, even on formal occasions.
In December 1994, Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, was published. In late 1994 he attended the 49th conference of the ANC in Bloemfontein, at which a more militant National Executive was elected, among them Winnie Mandela; although she expressed an interest in reconciling, Nelson initiated divorce proceedings in August 1995. By 1995 he had entered into a relationship with Graça Machel, a Mozambican political activist 27 years his junior who was the widow of former president Samora Machel. They had first met in July 1990, when she was still in mourning, but their friendship grew into a partnership, with Machel accompanying him on many of his foreign visits. She turned down Mandela’s first marriage proposal, wanting to retain some independence and dividing her time between Mozambique and Johannesburg.
Presiding over the transition from apartheid minority rule to a multicultural democracy, Mandela saw national reconciliation as the primary task of his presidency. Having seen other post-colonial African economies damaged by the departure of white elites, Mandela worked to reassure South Africa’s white population that they were protected and represented in “the Rainbow Nation“. Mandela attempted to create the broadest possible coalition in his cabinet, with de Klerk as first Deputy President. Other National Party officials became ministers for Agriculture, Energy, Environment, and Minerals and Energy, and Buthelezi was named Minister for Home Affairs. The other cabinet positions were taken by ANC members, many of whom – like Joe Modise, Alfred Nzo, Joe Slovo, Mac Maharaj and Dullah Omar – had long been comrades, although others, such as Tito Mboweni and Jeff Radebe, were much younger. Mandela’s relationship with de Klerk was strained; Mandela thought that de Klerk was intentionally provocative, and de Klerk felt that he was being intentionally humiliated by the president. In January 1995, Mandela heavily chastised him for awarding amnesty to 3,500 police just before the election, and later criticised him for defending former Minister of Defence Magnus Malan when the latter was charged with murder.
Mandela personally met with senior figures of the apartheid regime, including Hendrik Verwoerd‘s widow Betsie Schoombie and the lawyer Percy Yutar; emphasising personal forgiveness and reconciliation, he announced that “courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.” He encouraged black South Africans to get behind the previously hated national rugby team, the Springboks, as South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup. After the Springboks won a celebrated final over New Zealand, Mandela presented the trophy to captain Francois Pienaar, an Afrikaner, wearing a Springbok shirt with Pienaar’s own number 6 on the back. This was widely seen as a major step in the reconciliation of white and black South Africans; as de Klerk later put it, “Mandela won the hearts of millions of white rugby fans.” Mandela’s efforts at reconciliation assuaged the fears of whites, but also drew criticism from more militant blacks. His estranged wife, Winnie, accused the ANC of being more interested in appeasing whites than in helping blacks.
Mandela oversaw the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate crimes committed under apartheid by both the government and the ANC, appointing Desmond Tutu as its chair. To prevent the creation of martyrs, the Commission granted individual amnesties in exchange for testimony of crimes committed during the apartheid era. Dedicated in February 1996, it held two years of hearings detailing rapes, torture, bombings, and assassinations, before issuing its final report in October 1998. Both de Klerk and Mbeki appealed to have parts of the report suppressed, though only de Klerk’s appeal was successful. Mandela praised the Commission’s work, stating that it “had helped us move away from the past to concentrate on the present and the future”.
Mandela’s administration inherited a country with a huge disparity in wealth and services between white and black communities. Of a population of 40 million, around 23 million lacked electricity or adequate sanitation, 12 million lacked clean water supplies, with 2 million children not in school and a third of the population illiterate. There was 33% unemployment, and just under half of the population lived below the poverty line. Government financial reserves were nearly depleted, with a fifth of the national budget being spent on debt repayment, meaning that the extent of the promised Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) was scaled back, with none of the proposed nationalisation or job creation. Instead, the government adopted liberal economic policies designed to promote foreign investment, adhering to the “Washington consensus” advocated by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Under Mandela’s presidency, welfare spending increased by 13% in 1996/97, 13% in 1997/98, and 7% in 1998/99. The government introduced parity in grants for communities, including disability grants, child maintenance grants, and old-age pensions, which had previously been set at different levels for South Africa’s different racial groups. In 1994, free healthcare was introduced for children under six and pregnant women, a provision extended to all those using primary level public sector health care services in 1996. By the 1999 election, the ANC could boast that due to their policies, 3 million people were connected to telephone lines, 1.5 million children were brought into the education system, 500 clinics were upgraded or constructed, 2 million people were connected to the electricity grid, water access was extended to 3 million people, and 750,000 houses were constructed, housing nearly 3 million people.
The Land Restitution Act of 1994 enabled people who had lost their property as a result of the Natives Land Act, 1913 to claim back their land, leading to the settlement of tens of thousands of land claims. The Land Reform Act 3 of 1996 safeguarded the rights of labour tenants who live and grow crops or graze livestock on farms. This legislation ensured that such tenants could not be evicted without a court order or if they were over the age of sixty-five. The Skills Development Act of 1998 provided for the establishment of mechanisms to finance and promote skills development at the workplace. The Labour Relations Act of 1995 promoted workplace democracy, orderly collective bargaining, and the effective resolution of labour disputes. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997 improved enforcement mechanisms while extending a “floor” of rights to all workers; the Employment Equity Act of 1998 was passed to put an end to unfair discrimination and ensure the implementation of affirmative action in the workplace.
Critics like Edwin Cameron accused Mandela’s government of doing little to stem the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country; by 1999, 10% of South Africa’s population were HIV positive. Mandela later admitted that he had personally neglected the issue, leaving it for Mbeki to deal with. Mandela also received criticism for failing to sufficiently combat crime, with South Africa having one of the world’s highest crime rates; this was a key reason cited for the emigration of 750,000 whites in the late 1990s. Mandela’s administration was also mired in corruption scandals, with Mandela being perceived as having failed to deal with the problem.
Following the South African example, Mandela encouraged other nations to resolve conflicts through diplomacy and reconciliation. He echoed Mbeki’s calls for an “African Renaissance“, and was greatly concerned with issues on the continent; he took a soft diplomatic approach to removing Sani Abacha‘s military junta in Nigeria but later became a leading figure in calling for sanctions when Abacha’s regime increased human rights violations. In 1996 he was appointed Chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and initiated unsuccessful negotiations to end the First Congo War in Zaire. In South Africa’s first post-apartheid military operation, Mandela ordered troops into Lesotho in September 1998 to protect the government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili after a disputed election prompted opposition uprisings.
In September 1998, Mandela was appointed Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement, who held their annual conference in Durban. He used the event to criticise the “narrow, chauvinistic interests” of the Israeli government in stalling negotiations to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and urged India and Pakistan to negotiate to end the Kashmir conflict, for which he was criticised by both Israel and India. Inspired by the region’s economic boom, Mandela sought greater economic relations with East Asia, in particular with Malaysia, although this was scuppered by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. He attracted controversy for his close relationship with Indonesian President Suharto, whose regime was responsible for mass human rights abuses, although privately urged him to withdraw from the occupation of East Timor.
Mandela faced similar criticism from the West for his personal friendships with Fidel Castro and Muammar Gaddafi. Castro visited in 1998, to widespread popular acclaim, and Mandela met Gaddafi in Libya to award him the Order of Good Hope. When Western governments and media criticised these visits, Mandela lambasted such criticism as having racist undertones. Mandela hoped to resolve the long-running dispute between Libya and the US and Britain over bringing to trial the two Libyans, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, who were indicted in November 1991 and accused of sabotaging Pan Am Flight 103. Mandela proposed that they be tried in a third country, which was agreed to by all parties; governed by Scots law, the trial was held at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in April 1999, and found one of the two men guilty.
Withdrawing from politics
The new Constitution of South Africa was agreed upon by parliament in May 1996, enshrining a series of institutions to check political and administrative authority within a constitutional democracy. De Klerk opposed the implementation of this constitution, withdrawing from the coalition government in protest. The ANC took over the cabinet positions formerly held by the National Party, with Mbeki becoming sole Deputy President. When both Mandela and Mbeki were out of the country in one occasion, Buthelezi was appointed “Acting President”, marking an improvement in his relationship with Mandela.
Mandela stepped down as ANC President at the December 1997 conference, and although hoping that Ramaphosa would replace him, the ANC elected Mbeki to the position; Mandela admitted that by then, Mbeki had become “de facto President of the country”. Replacing Mbeki as Deputy President, Mandela and the Executive supported the candidacy of Jacob Zuma, a Zulu who had been imprisoned on Robben Island, but he was challenged by Winnie, whose populist rhetoric had gained her a strong following within the party; Zuma defeated her in a landslide victory vote at the election.
Mandela’s relationship with Machel had intensified; in February 1998 he publicly stated that “I’m in love with a remarkable lady”, and under pressure from his friend Desmond Tutu, who urged him to set an example for young people, he set a wedding for his 80th birthday, in July. The following day he held a grand party with many foreign dignitaries. The 1996 constitution limited the president to two consecutive five-year terms. Mandela did not attempt to amend the document to remove the two-term limit; indeed, he had never planned on standing for a second term in office. He gave his farewell speech on 29 March 1999, after which he retired.
Continued activism and philanthropy: 1999–2004
Retiring in June 1999, Mandela sought 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. Finding such seclusion difficult, he reverted to a busy public life with a daily programme of tasks, meeting with world leaders and celebrities, and when in Johannesburg worked with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, founded in 1999 to focus on rural development, school construction, and combating HIV/AIDS. Although he had been heavily criticised for failing to do enough to fight the pandemic during his presidency, he devoted much of his time to the issue following his retirement, describing it as “a war” that had killed more than “all previous wars”, and urged Mbeki’s government to ensure that HIV+ South Africans had access to anti-retrovirals. In 2000, the Nelson Mandela Invitational charity golf tournament was founded, hosted by Gary Player. Mandela was successfully treated for prostate cancer in July 2001.
In 2002, Mandela inaugurated the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, and in 2003 the Mandela Rhodes Foundation was created at Rhodes House, University of Oxford, to provide postgraduate scholarships to African students. These projects were followed by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and the 46664 campaign against HIV/AIDS. He gave the closing address at the XIII International AIDS Conference in Durban in 2000, and in 2004, spoke at the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand.
Publicly, Mandela became more vocal in criticising Western powers. He strongly opposed the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo and called it an attempt by the world’s powerful nations to police the entire world. In 2003, he spoke out against the plans for the US and UK to launch the War in Iraq, describing it as “a tragedy” and lambasting US President George W. Bush and 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 later reconciled his relationship with Blair. Retaining an interest in Libyan-UK relations, he visited 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, Mandela announced that he was “retiring from retirement” and retreating from public life, remarking “Don’t call me, I will call you.” Although continuing to meet with close friends and family, the Foundation discouraged invitations for him to appear at public events and denied most interview requests.
He retained some involvement in international affairs. In 2005, he founded the Nelson Mandela Legacy Trust, travelling to the U.S., to speak before the Brookings Institute and the NAACP on the need for economic assistance to Africa. He spoke with U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton and President George W. Bush and first met then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama. Mandela also encouraged Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to resign over growing human rights abuses in the country. When this proved ineffective, he spoke out publicly against Mugabe in 2007, asking him to step down “with residual respect and a modicum of dignity.” That year, 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 this new group, The Elders, in a speech delivered on his 89th birthday.
Mandela’s 90th birthday was marked across the country on 18 July 2008, with the main celebrations held at Qunu, and a concert in his honour in Hyde Park, London. In a speech marking the event, Mandela called for the rich to help the poor across the world. Throughout Mbeki’s presidency, Mandela continued to support the ANC, although usually overshadowed Mbeki at any public events that the two attended. Mandela was 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, Mandela had successfully campaigned 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 apartheid. Mandela emotionally raised the FIFA World Cup Trophy after South Africa was awarded host status. Despite maintaining a low profile during the event due to ill-health, 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 his family, were embroiled in a series of legal disputes regarding money held in family trusts for the benefit of his descendants. In mid-2013, as Mandela was hospitalised for a lung infection in Pretoria, his descendants were involved in intra-family legal dispute relating to the burial place of Mandela’s children, and ultimately Mandela himself.
In February 2011, he was briefly hospitalised with a respiratory infection, attracting international attention, before being re-hospitalised for a lung infection and gallstone removal in December 2012. After a successful medical procedure in early March 2013, his lung infection recurred, and he was briefly hospitalised in Pretoria. On 8 June 2013, his lung infection worsened, and he was rehospitalised in Pretoria in a serious condition. After four days, it was reported that he had stabilised and remained in a “serious, but stable condition”. En route to the hospital, his ambulance broke down and was stranded on the roadside for 40 minutes. The government was criticised for the incident, but Zuma countered that throughout, Mandela was given “expert medical care.”
On 22 June 2013, CBS News stated that he had not opened his eyes in days and was unresponsive, and the family was discussing how much medical intervention should be given. Former bodyguard Shaun van Heerden, described by CBS News as “Mandela’s constant companion for the last 12 years”, had publicly asked the family to “set him free” a week prior. On 23 June 2013, Zuma announced that Mandela’s condition had become “critical“. Zuma, accompanied by the Deputy President of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, met Mandela’s wife Graça Machel at the hospital in Pretoria and discussed his condition. On 25 June Cape Town Archbishop Thabo Makgoba visited Mandela at the hospital and prayed with Graça Machel Mandela “at this hard time of watching and waiting”. The next day, Zuma visited Mandela in the hospital and cancelled a visit scheduled for the next day to Mozambique. A relative of Mandela told The Daily Telegraph newspaper he was on life support.
On 4 July, it was reported that David Smith, a lawyer acting on behalf of Mandela family members, claimed in court on 26 June that Mandela was in a permanent vegetative state and life support should be withdrawn. The South African Presidency stated that the doctors treating Mandela denied that he was in a vegetative state. On 10 July, Zuma’s office announced that Mandela remained in critical but stable condition, and was responding to treatment.
Death and funeral
After suffering from a prolonged respiratory infection, Mandela died on 5 December 2013 at the age of 95. He died at around 20:50 local time (UTC+2) at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, surrounded by his family. His death was announced on television by President Jacob Zuma.
On 6 December 2013, President Zuma announced a national mourning period of ten days, with the main event held at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on 10 December 2013. He declared Sunday 8 December 2013 a national day of prayer and reflection. Mandela’s body lay in state from 11–13 December at the Union Buildings in Pretoria and a state funeral was held on 15 December 2013 in Qunu, South Africa. Approximately 90 representatives of foreign states travelled to South Africa to attend memorial events.
Mandela’s $4.1 million estate was left to his widow, other family members, staff, and educational institutions.
Mandela was an African nationalist, an ideological position he held since joining the ANC, also being a democratic socialist, thereby being “openly opposed to capitalism, private land-ownership and the power of big money”. Mandela was influenced by Marxism, and during the revolution he advocated scientific socialism. During the Treason Trial, he denied being a communist, although later historians and biographers believed that this was a lie; biographer David Jones Smith stated that Mandela “embraced communism and communists” in the late 1950s and early 1960s, while historian Stephen Ellis found evidence that he had been an active member of the South African Communist Party (SACP). This was confirmed after his death by the SACP and the ANC. According to the SACP, he was not only a member of the party, but also served on the party’s Central Committee, when he was arrested in 1962 and this was denied for political reasons.
In the 1955 Freedom Charter, which Mandela had helped create, it called for the nationalisation of banks, gold mines, and land, believing this necessary to ensure equal distribution of wealth. Despite these beliefs, Mandela nationalised nothing during his presidency, fearing that this would scare away foreign investors. This decision was in part influenced by the fall of the socialist states in the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc during the early 1990s. Although he presented himself in an autocratic manner in several speeches, Mandela was a devout believer in democracy and abided by majority decisions even when deeply disagreeing with them. He held a conviction that “inclusivity, accountability and freedom of speech” were the fundamentals of democracy, and was driven by a belief in natural and human rights. This belief drove him to not only pursue racial equality but also to promote gay rights as part of the post-apartheid reforms.
Mandela was a private person who often concealed his emotions and confided in very few people. Privately, he lived an austere life, refusing to drink alcohol or smoke, and even as President made his own bed, although was also renowned for his mischievous sense of humour. He was known for being both stubborn and loyal, and at times exhibited a quick temper. He was typically friendly and welcoming, and appeared relaxed in conversation with everyone, including his opponents. Constantly polite and courteous, he was attentive to all, irrespective of their age or status, and often talked to children or servants. In later life he always looked for the best in people, even defending political opponents to his allies, who sometimes thought him too trusting of others. He was highly image conscious, and throughout his life always sought out fine quality clothes, with many commentators believing that he carried himself in a regal manner. His official biographer Anthony Sampson commented that he was a “master of imagery and performance”, excelling at presenting himself well in press photographs and producing soundbites. In describing his life, Mandela stated that “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.”
Mandela was married three times, fathered six children, had 17 grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. He could be stern and demanding of his children, although he was more affectionate with his grandchildren. His first marriage was to Evelyn Ntoko Mase in October 1944; they divorced after 13 years in 1957 under the multiple strains of his adultery and constant absences, devotion to revolutionary agitation, and the fact that she was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religion requiring political neutrality. The couple had two sons whom Mandela survived, Madiba “Thembi” Thembekile (1945–1969) and Makgatho Mandela (1950–2005); his first son died in a car crash, and his second son died of AIDS. The couple had two daughters, both named Makaziwe Mandela (born 1947 and 1954); the first died at the age of nine months, the second, known as “Maki“, survived Mandela. Makgatho’s son, Mandla Mandela, became chief of the Mvezo tribal council in 2007.
Mandela’s second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, also came from the Transkei area, although they, too, met in Johannesburg, where she was the city’s first black social worker. They had two daughters, Zenani (Zeni), born 4 February 1959, and Zindziswa (Zindzi) Mandela-Hlongwane, born 1960. Zindzi was only 18 months old when her father was sent to Robben Island. Later, Winnie was deeply torn by family discord which mirrored the country’s political strife; separation (April 1992) and divorce (March 1996), fuelled by political estrangement. Mandela’s third wife was Graça Machel (née Simbine), whom he married on his 80th birthday in 1998.
Influence and legacy
By the time of his death, Mandela had come to be widely considered “the father of the nation” within South Africa, and “the founding father of democracy”, being seen as “the national liberator, the saviour, its Washington and Lincoln rolled into one”. Mandela’s biographer Anthony Sampson commented that even during his life, a myth had developed around him that turned him into “a secular saint” and which was “so powerful that it blurs the realities.” Within a decade after the end of his Presidency, Mandela’s era was being widely thought of as “a golden age of hope and harmony”. Across the world, Mandela earned international acclaim for his activism in overcoming apartheid and fostering racial reconciliation, coming to be viewed as “a moral authority” with a great “concern for truth”.
Throughout his life, Mandela had also faced criticism. Margaret Thatcher attracted international attention for describing the ANC as “a typical terrorist organisation” in 1987; although she later called on Botha to release Mandela. On his death, various Twitter users repeated the denunciations that he was a communist and a terrorist, while various anti-abortion activists across the world took the opportunity to condemn him for supporting the 1996 Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act. Mandela has also been criticised for his friendship with political leaders such as Fidel Castro, Muammar Gaddafi, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Suharto – deemed dictators by critics – as well as his refusal to condemn their human rights violations.
Orders, decorations, and monuments
On 16 December 2013, Reconciliation Day, a 9-metre-high, bronze statue of Mandela was unveiled at the Union Buildings by President Jacob Zuma. In 2004, Johannesburg granted Mandela the freedom of the city, and the Sandton Square shopping centre was renamed Nelson Mandela Square, after a Mandela statue was installed there. In 2008, another Mandela statue was unveiled at Drakenstein Correctional Centre, formerly Victor Verster Prison, near Cape Town, standing on the spot where Mandela was released from the prison.
In 1993, he received the joint Nobel Peace Prize with de Klerk. In November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed Mandela’s birthday, 18 July, as “Mandela Day“, marking his contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle. It called on individuals to donate 67 minutes to doing something for others, commemorating the 67 years that Mandela had been a part of the movement.
Awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and appointment to the Order of Canada, he was also the first living person to be made an honorary Canadian citizen. Mandela was the last recipient of the Soviet Union’s Lenin Peace Prize and the first recipient of the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. In 1990, he received the Bharat Ratna Award from the government of India and, in 1992, received Pakistan’s Nishan-e-Pakistan. The same year, he was awarded the Atatürk Peace Award by Turkey; he at first refused the award, citing human rights violations committed by Turkey at the time, but later accepted the award in 1999. Queen Elizabeth II appointed him as a Bailiff Grand Cross of the Order of St. John (upon the recommendation of the order’s Honours and Awards Committee) and granted him membership in the Order of Merit (a personal gift of the monarch).
Tributes by musicians
Many artists have dedicated songs to Mandela. One of the most popular was from The Special AKA who recorded the song “Free Nelson Mandela” in 1983, which Elvis Costello also recorded and had a hit with. Stevie Wonder dedicated his 1985 Oscar for the song “I Just Called to Say I Love You” to Mandela, resulting in his music being banned by the South African Broadcasting Corporation. In 1985, Youssou N’Dour‘s album Nelson Mandela was the Senegalese artist’s first US release. Other artists who released songs or videos honouring Mandela include Johnny Clegg, Hugh Masekela, Brenda Fassie, Khadja Nin, Beyond, Nickelback, Raffi, and Ampie du Preez and AB de Villiers. South African songstress Zahara, an ambassador for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, released Nelson Mandela, an extended play that pays tribute to Mandela whilst celebrating his lifetime accomplishments. The EP’s lead single titled “Nelson Mandela” was released at a time when Mandela was critically ill but stable at the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria.
Cinema and television
Mandela has been depicted in cinema and television on multiple occasions. He was portrayed by Danny Glover in the 1987 HBO telefilm Mandela. The 1997 film Mandela and de Klerk starred Sidney Poitier as Mandela, and Dennis Haysbert played him in Goodbye Bafana (2007). In the 2009 BBC telefilm Mrs Mandela, Mandela was portrayed by David Harewood, and Morgan Freeman portrayed him in Invictus (2009). Terrence Howard portrayed him in the 2011 film Winnie Mandela. He is portrayed by Idris Elba in the 2013 film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.