Nelson Mandela was born to the Thembu royal family in South Africa on July 18, 1918.
His Christian (Methodist) mother and polygamous father named him Rolihlahla (Xhosa for 'troublemaker') but, consistent with tradition and British bias, in Methodist school, his teacher renamed him Nelson, which mystified Mandela.
He was dispatched to his mother's native village to be brought up by older sisters and tended herds as a 'cattle boy'. Soon after, his father died. His mother entrusted him to the guardianship of the Thembu regent and his wife, who had two children. Mandela bonded well with the family in the 'Great Place' palace in Mqhekezweni. He attended weekly services with them and developed a love for African history and culture that endured throughout a succession of Methodist secondary and tertiary institutions.
His ultimate aim was to be a lawyer, but he first studied humanities, pursuing a BA degree at Fort Hare, a small elite black university where he indulged in sports and ballroom dancing and performed in a play about Abraham Lincoln. He was suspended from the university for his role in a food strike and left without a degree.
Learning that his guardian had arranged a marriage for him, Mandela fled to Johannesburg, arriving in April 1941. He worked as a night watchman until fired when his runaway status was discovered. Although having friends in the anti-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) and in communist circles and impressed by the mixing as equals of the Europeans, Africans, Indians and Coloureds in the movement, he joined neither the ANC nor the communist party. He was especially cautious of identifying with communists because he was a democratic socialist, and the communists' atheism conflicted with his Christianity. He was also wary of the apartheid leaders' Cold War tactics of securing the support and protection of powerful western countries by labelling anti-apartheid activists as communists.
Mandela studied law at Witwatersrand University and joined the ANC. Working with the likes of Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Albert Luthuli, Peter Mda, Thabo Mbeki and James Moroka, Mandela progressed steadily in the ANC, becoming president of the Transvaal ANC and National Executive member in March 1950.
Rapid expansion of racial segregation followed the 1948 general election victory of François Malan and his National Party. To 15 restrictive apartheid laws passed in the 64 years between 1884 and 1948 were added 30 such laws in the 16 years of the presidencies of Malan and Henrik Verwoerd between 1948 and 1964. Most despised were pass laws like the Group Areas Act (1950), requiring non-whites to carry identification passbooks that any white, even a child, could demand to be shown. Protests over the pass laws were avenged by more repression and such atrocities as the Sharpeville Massacre (1960) and the brutal reaction to the Soweto uprising (1976). As the regime grew more inhuman, a new Mandela emerged, advocating boycotts, strikes and other direct action. As he became more militant, he was increasingly targeted by the authorities in a perpetual spiral of antagonism. In July 1952, he was convicted of 'statutory communism', given a suspended sentence and banned from attending meetings or talking to more than one person at a time. More bans and convictions followed.
In August 1953, shortly after passing his law examinations, Mandela set up with Oliver Tambo the only African law office in South Africa, in downtown Johannesburg. The authorities removed the firm's office permit under the Group Areas Act, forcing them to relocate. Their very substantial clientele dwindled.
During a divorce battle with his first wife, Mandela began courting social worker Winnilae Madikize. He married her in 1958.
In March 1961, after a five-year trial, he was found not guilty of high treason.
Jamaica takes action
In 1957, colonial Jamaica led the world in a trade ban against the apartheid regime. This was the start of a bipartisan Jamaican campaign to isolate South Africa internationally. The ANC was banned in April 1960 and South Africa was expelled from the Commonwealth in 1961.
In February 1964, Mandela and two co-accused were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government. They languished in deplorable conditions in the infamous Robben Island prison until transferred to the more tolerable Pollsmoor prison in April 1982. Mandela was celebrated worldwide as a hero, and in March 1980, the slogan 'Free Mandela!' initiated an international campaign that led the UN Security Council to call for his release.
Violence escalated. Many feared civil war. Under international pressure, multinational banks ceased investing in South Africa, causing economic stagnation. In February 1985, President P.W. Botha offered Mandela release if he "unconditionally rejects violence as a political weapon". Mandela rejected the offer because the ANC remained banned. He met with "seven eminent persons", an international delegation sent to negotiate a settlement, but Botha's government refused to cooperate, called a state of emergency and initiated a police crackdown on unrest. Anarchy reigned, the government even fomenting "black on black" violence.
ANC leaders informed Mandela that Winnie had set herself up as head of the "Mandela United Football Club", a criminal gang that tortured and killed opponents, including children. He decided to remain loyal until she was found guilty by trial.
Manley, Patterson and Thompson
In December 1988, Mandela was moved to Victor Verster prison, where he received improved treatment. President P.W. Botha invited him to a meeting in July 1989. Six weeks later, Botha was replaced as president by F.W. deKlerk, who believed that apartheid was unsustainable and unconditionally released all ANC prisoners except Mandela. After a December 1989 meeting with Mandela, deKlerk agreed to release him unconditionally and legalise all banned political parties. Television viewers in Jamaica and across the world saw Mandela live, holding Winnie's hand while walking away from Victor Verster prison on February 11, 1990.
It was no accident or coincidence that the first two countries that Mandela visited on his celebratory international tour were Cuba and Jamaica. Jamaican anti-apartheid antagonism peaked in the 1970s under Michael Manley, firmly supported by P.J. Patterson and Dudley Thompson. Manley's was the foremost anti-apartheid voice outside South Africa, with major United Nations speeches in Maputo, Mozambique; Kingston, Jamaica; and UN headquarters. In 1978, as one of seven world leaders awarded UN gold medals for their anti-apartheid contributions, Manley was chosen to speak on behalf of all awardees. Besides, he was the principal strategist in the isolation of apartheid South Africa, leading to the outlawing of apartheid sport and isolation of South Africa by the Commonwealth and the UN.
When in December 1975, United States Secretary of the State Henry Kissinger warned Manley not to support Cuba's presence in Angola to defend that country against apartheid South Africa's incursion, Manley declined to commit Jamaica to opposing Cuba's defence of Angola or to neutrality, despite hints that non-compliance would jeopardise urgently needed financial aid. Jamaica, in concert with all of Africa, voted at the UN in favour of the Cuban presence in Angola and the proposed US financial assistance did not materialise. Manley, Patterson and Thompson also influenced other nations in the Caribbean and elsewhere to endorse Cuba's heroic campaign in Angola.
On leaving Victor Vester prison, ending 27 years' imprisonment, Nelson Mandela was driven to Cape Town's City Hall, where he publicly affirmed his commitment to peace and reconciliation with the white minority but clarified that the ANC's armed struggle would continue as "a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid".
Mandela expressed the hope that the de Klerk government would agree to negotiations and thus obviate the need for armed struggle. He emphasised that his mission was to bring to the black majority peace and the right to vote. He repeated this theme to a 100,000-strong Johannesburg crowd.
Epic moment in world history
What followed was an epic moment in world history that brought together two remarkably reasonable and courageous men, the ANC champion Nelson Mandela and South Africa's President F.W. de Klerk, who patriotically deviated from past intransigence to pull their nation back from the brink of disaster and release its huge potential. To the displeasure of hardliners on both sides, substantial concessions were made by Mandela and de Klerk as the way was being paved for the end of apartheid. Although there was lingering animosity and mistrust, the world was impressed with the statesmanship shown by Mandela and de Klerk. The two South African leaders were honoured with Nobel Peace Prizes and US Liberty Medals in 1993. Mandela went on a rewarding world tour to win friends and influence heads of governments.
In May 1990, he led a multiracial ANC delegation in preliminary talks with a government team of 11 Afrikaner men and impressed them with his knowledge of their history. Shortly after, the government ended the state of emergency. Three months later, realistically assessing the ANC's great military disadvantage - vis-à-vis the government forces - Mandela offered a ceasefire.
At the July 1991 ANC national conference, he admitted to the party's faults and announced his aim to build "a strong, well-oiled task force" to secure majority rule. He was elected ANC president to replace the ailing Oliver Tambo. Many of the 1,600 delegates at a December 1991 Johannesburg ANC conference found him more moderate than expected.
Mandela morally supported his wife Winnie and raised funds for her defence on charges of kidnapping and assault, but in June 1991, she was found guilty and sentenced to six years' imprisonment, reduced to two years on appeal. In April 1992, Mandela announced their separation. The ANC dismissed her from its executive for "misappropriating ANC funds".
'Black on black' violence
Mandela's reputation sagged as a consequence of black-on-black violence, especially between ANC and Inkatha supporters in KwaZulu-Natal, resulting in thousands of deaths. Mandela met with Inkatha leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, but the ANC put a brake on further negotiations. In September 1991, Mandela, de Klerk and Buthelezi signed a 'peace accord', but the violence continued.
A Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) had its first meeting in December 1991, attended by 228 delegates from 19 political parties. Cyril Ramaphosa led the ANC delegation, but Mandela commanded attention. After de Klerk condemned ANC violence, Mandela rebuked him as "head of an illegitimate, discredited minority regime".
In May 1992, de Klerk adamantly demanded that post-apartheid South Africa's constitution should be based on a federal structure with a rotating presidency to protect ethnic minorities, but Mandela proposed instead a unitary system based on majority rule.
After a massacre of ANC activists by government-aided Inkatha militants, Mandela called off further negotiations. At a conference of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Senegal, he called for a special meeting of the UN Security Council and proposed a UN peacekeeping force to be stationed in South Africa to prevent state terrorism. The UN dispatched former United States Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to South Africa as special envoy to aid negotiations.
In a show of strength, the ANC organised the largest strike in South Africa's history and marched on Pretoria. Twenty-eight ANC supporters and a soldier were shot dead during a protest march in Bisho. In September 1992, Mandela, realising that mass action was generating violence, offered to resume negotiations provided that all political prisoners were released and measures taken to protect ANC supporters from Inkatha attacks. President de Klerk accepted the offer.
Mandela and de Klerk then agreed on a multiracial general election producing a five-year coalition government of national unity and a constitutional assembly giving the National Party continuing influence. A Mandela concession to safeguard the jobs of white civil servants was fiercely criticised within his ranks. The two leaders agreed on a compromise between de Klerk's federalism and Mandela's unitarity through an interim constitution guaranteeing separation of powers, creating a constitutional court and a bill of rights and dividing the country into nine provinces, each with its own premier and civil service
After the murder of ANC executive Chris Hani, Mandela made a highly publicised speech designed to calm rioting. Recognising the need for foreign investment, he also backed off from his pro-nationalisation rhetoric.
1994 general election
Under the slogan 'a better life for all', the ANC campaigned for the first post-apartheid general election, scheduled for April 27, 1994, with the promise of a reconstruction and development programme ((RDP) to build one million houses in five years, deliver universal free education and provide greater access to water and electricity. Mandela concentrated on keeping the election peaceful and democratic. He and deKlerk persuaded Buthelezi to contest it rather than be disruptive. With 62 per cent of the popular vote, the ANC won in seven of the nine provinces. The National Party and Inkatha took one each.
Michael Manley headed two Commonwealth observer missions to South Africa, in 1992 and 1993, before heading the Commonwealth mission that observed the general election, while Jamaican diplomat Angela King led the UN observer mission at the election. Not forgotten were the cadre of young South Africans educated and trained in Jamaica on Jamaican scholarships.
Inaugurated as president in May 1994, Mandela headed a Government of National Unity, including members of the National Party and Inkatha. He announced deKlerk as first deputy president and Thabo Mbeki as second deputy. Although supporting press freedom, he berated media scaremongering about crime.
His autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, was published in December 1994. He initiated divorce proceedings against Winnie in August 1995 and started a relationship with Samora Machel's widow Graca Machel, which culminated in marriage after his divorce from Winnie.
Mandela regarded national reconciliation as his principal objective. He reassured the white population that they were an integral part of the 'rainbow nation'. He had cordial meetings with senior members of the previous apartheid regime, but his relationship with deKlerk was strained as he considered deKlerk deliberately provocative, while deKlerk felt humiliated by him. Setting a personal example, Mandela persuaded black South Africans to embrace the previously hated whites-only national rugby team, the Springboks, for which he was praised even by deKlerk.
Mandela appointed the internationally respected Archbishop Desmond Tutu to chair a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which for two years, investigated major crimes committed on both sides under apartheid. The Commission won global kudos for its work.