Nelson Mandela – Biography, Anti-Apartheid Activist, Statesman, Father of South Africa, Legacy

Nelson Mandela biography
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Nelson Mandela Biography and Legacy

Only a few men can claim to have changed the world, and even fewer can claim to have changed the world for good. Nelson Mandela belongs to the second category.

He was one of those human beings who has earned the right to be regarded as one of the greatest men to have ever walked the earth.

For those of you who don’t know who Nelson Mandela exactly was, what exactly did he do, and why exactly is he so important, please read on.


Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18th, 1918, in the small village of Mvezo in Umtata, which lay on the banks of the Mbashe River.

Mandela grew up in the village of Qunu with his mother and two sisters. His childhood there was dominated by Thembu customs and traditions, and he often tended to herds as a cattle boy and spent the majority of his time playing outside along with the other boys.

When Mandela was about 7 years old, he was enrolled in the local Methodist School, where his teacher gave him the English forename of ‘Nelson’.

And when he was only 9 years old, his father passed away due to an unknown illness.

Mandela was then entrusted to the guardianship of the Thembu regent, Chief Jongintaba, at Mqhekezweni, where they treated him as their own child. He was raised alongside the Chief’s own son, Justice, and daughter, Nomafu.

Mandela would not see his mother again for years.

Early Education

It was decided by Chief Jongintaba that Mandela would become a privy councilor for the Thembu Royal House.

For that purpose, in 1933, Mandela, aged 15, was enrolled into Clarkebury Methodist High School in Engcobo, in order to begin his secondary education.

The High School was a western-style institution and the largest school for native Africans in Thembuland.

In 1937, Mandela, aged 19, enrolled in Healdtown Methodist College, located in Fort Beaufort.

It was a college attended by most Thembu royalty, including Chief Jongintaba’s son, Justice.

University of Fort Hare

In 1939, Mandela, aged 21, joined the University of Fort Hare in order to pursue a BA Degree.

Mandela stayed in the Wesley House dormitory, where he met Oliver Tambo, who eventually became his close friend and comrade in the freedom struggle.

At the University, Mandela became a vocal supporter of the British war effort during the second world war. At the time, he did not consider European colonizers as oppressors. Instead, he thought of them as benefactors who had brought education and other benefits to South Africa.

At the end of his first year, Mandela was suspended from the university for participating in a Students’ Representative Council boycott against the quality of food.

He never returned to the University to complete his BA Degree.

Moving to Johannesburg

On returning to Mqhekezweni after being suspended from the University, Mandela found out that Chief Jongintaba had arranged marriages for him and Justice.

Both Mandela and Justice were against the idea of being married off, and so the two of them fled to Johannesburg.

They arrived in Johannesburg in 1941, when Mandela was 23 years old.

Life in Johannesburg

After some difficulty, Mandela managed to find work as a night watchman at Crown mines.

This was where he first saw South African capitalism in action. He saw how people (mostly non-whites) were exploited and made to work long arduous hours, in dangerous conditions, for a meager wage.

Mandela was eventually fired from the job when the headman found out that he was a runaway.

After moving in with a cousin of his, Mandela was introduced to Walter Sisulu, who was an ANC activist.

Sisulu would later help secure a job for Mandela as an articled clerk at the law firm of Witkin, Sidelsky, and Eidelman.

Mandela worked a variety of jobs, while simultaneously pursuing his Bachelor’s degree through a correspondence course at the University of South Africa.

Since he only earned a small wage, he rented out a room in the house of an Xhoma family in Alexandria, which was a place rife with crime, pollution, and poverty.

Law Education

After completing his BA in 1943, Mandela began studying law at the University of Witwatersrand, where he was the only native African student.

Simultaneously, he also began his three-year articles at Witkin, Sidelsky, and Eidelman.

At the firm, Mandela met Gaur Radebe and Nat Bregman, who were both members of the Communist Party. Through them, he was introduced to communism.

He also attended a few Communist Party gatherings, where he was surprised to see that Africans, Indians, Coloureds, and Europeans mixed as equals.

While studying at the university, Mandela met and befriended students from different backgrounds, including liberal European, Indian, and Jewish students.

By his own admission, he was a poor student.

Political Awakening

While studying law, Mandela became increasingly aware of the racial inequality existing in South Africa.

He saw how non-whites were oppressed and subjugated, and segregation based on race was widespread.

This sudden awareness prompted him to join the African National Congress (ANC) in order to fight for the rights of the disenfranchised.

Mandela was deeply influenced by the views and ideas of Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and other activists, while they discussed politics at Sisulu’s house. In this way, Mandela became more and more politicized.

Even though Mandela had many non-blacks and communists as friends, he was of the opinion that black Africans should fight independently in their struggle for freedom and political self-determination.

In 1944, the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) was formed with Mandela as a member of the executive committee.

The purpose of the Youth wing was to mass-mobilize Africans to fight against oppression and injustice.

First Marriage, and End of Articleship

In October 1944, Mandela married Evelyn Mase, who was a trainee nurse. The couple had first met at Walter Sisulu’s house.

Mandela and Evelyn initially lived with Evelyn’s relatives, and then, later on, moved into a rented house in the township of Orlando.

In February 1945, their first child, Thembi, was born. And two years later, a daughter, Makaziwe, was born but died of meningitis nine months later.

After Mandela’s three years of articleship came to an end in 1947, he decided to become a full-time student by subsisting on loans from the Bantu Welfare Trust.

The 1948 South African General Election and Its Consequences

In the 1948 General Election, in which only whites were allowed to vote, the openly racist Afrikaner Party, known as the Nationalist Party, came into power.

The Nationalist Party immediately expanded and enacted the Apartheid legislation, thereby officially formalizing it in law.

This legislation legally institutionalized systematic racial discrimination in South Africa, where the Whites dominated over the people of other races.

In this way, the Apartheid political system came into existence.

What Exactly was Apartheid?

Well, it was something intolerable, undesirable, unimaginable, and inhumane. And you would be surprised to know for how long it actually existed and even flourished.

Apartheid was a political system that discriminated against human beings on the basis of their race. It was a racist system that advocated and propagated segregation. And, of course, it was the Blacks, Coloureds, and Indians who were victims of this political system run by the White minority.

Immediately after coming to power in 1948, the Nationalist Party officially formalized the Apartheid legislation in law. This legislation institutionalized racial discrimination in South Africa.

Basically, racism was made legal.

Change in Direction of the ANC

Nelson Mandela and his comrades, Sisulu, Tambo, Pitje, and Mda, guided the African National Congress (ANC) toward a more radical and revolutionary path that had never been taken before.

They began advocating boycotts, strikes, and other direct action strategies against the apartheid Government.

This new militant leadership in the ANC kick-started and stimulated the struggle for freedom and self-determination.

End of Law Studies

Nelson Mandela’s increasing involvement in politics distracted him from his law studies.

In 1948, after having failed his final-year exam three times, he left the university without graduating.

Defiance Campaign

In 1952, the African National Congress (ANC) began planning for a joint Defiance Campaign against the apartheid Government.

The campaign was meant to be conducted with a united front along with communist and Indian groups. A National Voluntary Board was founded to recruit volunteers.

By now, Nelson Mandela no longer believed that native Africans must fight independently for self-determination. He had accepted and advocated the idea of a multi-racial front against apartheid.

It was decided that the campaign would follow the strategy of nonviolent resistance influenced by the success and effectiveness of Mahatma Gandhi’s campaigns.

On 22nd June, Mandela addressed a crowd at a Durban rally in order to encourage protests during the campaign. He was later on arrested and briefly interned for this speech.

The Defiance Campaign was launched on 26th June 1952.

All across South Africa, the masses performed acts of defiance and civil disobedience in order to provoke the authorities to arrest them and put them in jail.

Volunteers burned passbooks which they were made to carry around at all times. Many deliberately entered into areas that were reserved for whites only. And thousands of protesters demonstrated on the streets and conducted bus boycotts.

The protesters intended to overwhelm the Government by forcing the authorities to carry out large-scale imprisonment.

In order to achieve this, volunteers who were arrested refused to defend themselves in court or pay the fine for their release. Instead, they chose to go to prison.

These protests and demonstrations were mostly peaceful and non-violent in nature. But oftentimes the police used violent measures to stop the protesters. Batons were used to beat them down, and on a few occasions, the police opened fire on the protesters, resulting in many deaths and injuries.

The ANC’s membership grew as further protests took place across South Africa, as the masses began to volunteer in large numbers.

The significance of the Defiance Campaign lies in the fact that it was the first large-scale, country-wide, multi-racial political mobilization against apartheid laws.

And to a large extent, it was highly successful too.

The Government’s response to the Defiance Campaign

The Government responded with mass arrests of protesters.

In July 1952, Nelson Mandela was arrested again under the Suppression of Communism Act. He stood trial along with 21 other comrades and was found guilty of ‘statutory communism’. He was sentenced to nine months of hard labor.

Fortunately, his sentence was suspended for two years.

In October 1952, Mandela became the President of Transvaal ANC. And in December, he received a six-month ban from making speeches and attending meetings. As per the ban, he was only allowed to talk to one person at a time, virtually making his presidency pointless and ineffective.

During this period, the Defiance Campaign slowed down and petered out.

Law Practice

The reason why Mandela could practice as a lawyer was because the minimum qualification for entering the profession was an Attorney’s Diploma, followed by five years of articles.

In 1952, Mandela passed the qualification exams and became an attorney. He began working for the firm Terblanche and Briggish, and then, later on, moved on to working for the firm Helman and Michel.

In 1953, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo opened up their own law firm, Mandela & Tambo. It was the first law firm in South Africa run by native Africans.

Mandela and Tambo gave affordable and sometimes even free legal advice to native Africans who could otherwise never have afforded it. This meant that they were constantly in great demand among native Africans, usually belonging to lower-income groups. Their clients were mostly people seeking redress and justice from police brutality and other apartheid laws.

Unfortunately, Mandela and Tambo’s political life regularly interfered with their law practice.

They were constantly persecuted and harassed by the Government, which hampered their practice. These problems resulted in them losing many of their clients.

Finally in 1960, as Tambo was forced to flee the country and Mandela faced charges of treason, the firm was closed down for good.

Change in Mindset

In 1955, the Government declared that all black people from Johannesburg would be relocated to another locality.

The masses, led by the ANC, protested against the relocation scheme. But they were unsuccessful in stopping it and the scheme was carried out nonetheless.

This event created a change in Mandela’s mindset. He came to the conclusion that violent action was needed and necessary in order to end apartheid.

Congress of the People

Along with the Coloured People’s Congress, the South African Indian Congress, the Congress of Democrats, and the South African Congress of Trade Unions, the ANC planned and organized a Congress of the people.

Together, the multi-racial gathering came to be known as the Congress Alliance.

The main aim of the gathering was to lay down the vision of the South African people. Toward this purpose, the Alliance called on all South Africans to send in proposals for a post-apartheid era South Africa.

Based on the responses, the Freedom Charter was drawn up. The Charter stated the core principles of the Alliance and called for a democratic, non-racialist state. It also called for the nationalization of major industries.

The gathering was held in Kliptown in June 1955.

Around 3,000 delegates attended the event and officially adopted the Freedom Charter.

Preliminary Hearing of the Treason Trial

In December 1956, the South African police raided the houses and offices of more than 150 people (most of them ANC members) from around the country and arrested them on the charge of ‘high treason’ against the state.

The Suppression of Communism Act was enforced again. And Nelson Mandela was one of the accused.

The accused who were not based in Johannesburg were flown there in a military aircraft and held in custody until the preliminary hearing.

The hearing was held on 19th December 1956 in the Johannesburg Drill Hall.

The proceedings were interrupted multiple times due to the noise caused by thousands of black protesters protesting outside the Drill Hall.

After many months of examining the state’s evidence and hearing the case put forward by the defendants, the hearing finally came to an end on 30th January 1958.

The Magistrate had found sufficient evidence for the defendants to be tried on charges of high treason.

All the defendants pleaded not guilty and were released on bail.

The Treason Trial

The Treason Trial began on 1st August 1958, in Pretoria.

Now there were 91 accused on trial, who were all charged with high treason.

The accused were charged with attempting to overthrow the Government through a violent revolution, between 1952 and 1956, with the intention of replacing it with a Communist Government.

All the accused denied the charges.

In April 1959, the presiding judge declared that the accused could not be tried for conspiring against the Government without the prosecution showing how they had entered into a conspiracy, as such information was needed by the accused in order to defend their case.

The Judge permitted the accused to return home and asked the prosecution to decide if they wished to re-indict the accused.

Anti-pass Campaign

The pass laws were designed by the apartheid Government in order to tighten state control over the movements of black South Africans.

The ANC and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) initiated an anti-pass campaign in early 1960.

They asked the masses to burn their passes that they were legally obliged to carry along with them at all times.

Nelson Mandela too burned his pass publicly, thereby inspiring and encouraging the masses to do the same.

During one such non-violent demonstration organized by the PAC in Sharpeville, the police opened fire upon the unarmed protesters, killing 69 people and injuring almost 180.

This incident came to be known as the Sharpeville Massacre.

The incident caused widespread public outrage and rioting across the country. It also attracted international condemnation of the Nationalist Government.

The Response of the Government

The Government responded by declaring martial law and implementing State of Emergency measures.

The ANC and the PAC were banned.

Nelson Mandela and other leaders and activists of the ANC were arrested and imprisoned for five months without charge.

Their lawyers were not allowed to contact them. In protest, the lawyers decided to withdraw from the still ongoing Treason Trial, thereby bringing the trial to a standstill.

The leaders and activists were finally released from prison when the Government lifted the State of Emergency in August 1960.

The Treason Trial Verdict

On 29th March 1961, six years after the Treason Trial began, the verdict was out.

All the remaining accused were found to be not guilty.

The verdict ruled that there was insufficient evidence to convict the accused of ‘high treason’.

The Judge concluded that the prosecution was unable to prove that the ANC had advocated communism or violent revolution to overthrow the Government.

Mandela on the Run

In 1960, the ANC had been banned and labeled a terrorist organization. Most of its leaders had gone underground. And Nelson Mandela was on the run, disguised as a chauffeur.

While Mandela was on the run, he helped organize the ANC’s new cell structure and planned a mass stay-at-home strike.

He also held secret interviews with reporters, wherein he warned that many anti-apartheid activists would soon resort to violence, as they thought it futile to continue protesting peacefully when the Government’s only response was violence.

During this time, Mandela became the most wanted man in South Africa. He came to be known as the Black Pimpernel in the press.

After seeing that the Government insisted on responding to non-violent protests with violence, Mandela began to believe that the ANC should form an armed wing in order to respond to the Government’s violence and defend itself.

Formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe

Nelson Mandela, along with his colleagues who were of the same opinion as him, managed to convince ANC leader Albert Luthuli, who was morally opposed to violence, that it was imperative to form an armed wing in order to fight the apartheid Government.

Mandela and his colleagues believed that non-violent protests should only be used as a strategy as long as it was effective.

Therefore, in 1961, inspired by the success of the Cuban Revolution, Mandela, Sisulu, and Slovo founded the armed wing of the ANC called Umkhonto we Sizwe (meaning ‘Spear of the Nation’), which also came to be known as MK.

MK was declared separate from the ANC, so as not to taint the ANC’s reputation of being peaceful and non-violent.

Mandela was appointed as chairman of the MK. He began to read books on guerilla warfare, written by Marxist icons like Che Guevara and Mao Zedong. He also read books on the Chinese and Cuban Revolutions in order to gain ideas and strategies from those movements.

The MK’s aim was to plan and carry out organized acts of sabotage that would attract the attention of the Government, while at the same time avoiding civilian casualties.

They decided to bomb telephone lines, power plants, transport links, and military installations at night, so as to ensure that civilians were not harmed.

The MK believed that acts of sabotage would be the least harmful method to put serious pressure on the Government. However, they made it clear that if this strategy failed too, they would have no choice but to resort to guerilla warfare.

African Tour and England Visit

In February 1962, the Pan-African Freedom Movement for East, Central, and Southern African (PAFMECSA) conference was being held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The ANC decided to send Nelson Mandela as their delegate for the conference, and also for a tour of Africa in order to muster up support and raise funds for the ANC and its armed wing.

Mandela left South Africa in secret via Bechuanaland (modern-day Botswana).

On his way, Mandela visited Tanganyika, where he met with President Julius Nyerere. And on reaching Ethiopia, he met with Emperor Haile Selassie I.

At the conference, Mandela gave a speech on South Africa’s cause for freedom and self-determination.

After the conference, Mandela then traveled to Cairo, Egypt, where he was impressed by the political reforms undertaken by President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

He then visited Tunis, Tunisia, where he was able to meet President Habib Bourguiba. Bourguiba provided him with funds for procuring weapons for guerilla warfare.

Mandela then went on to visit Morocco, where he was briefly trained by the armed forces of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) at their rebel headquarters. The FLN also provided the ANC with weapons.

From Morocco, Mandela went on to visit Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and then Senegal.

During these visits, he received funds from Guinean President Ahmed Sekou Toure and Liberian President William Tubman.

Mandela’s African tour came to an end with these visits. He then left Africa for London in order to garner support for South Africa’s liberation struggle.

In London, Mandela met other anti-apartheid activists, who sympathized with the South African cause. He also met with leading politicians such as the Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell.

After a brief stay in London, Mandela returned to Africa, where he began a six-month course in guerilla warfare in Ethiopia. But eventually, he was only able to complete two months of training before being called back to South Africa by the ANC’s leadership.


On 5th August 1962, while driving to Johannesburg, disguised as a chauffeur, Nelson Mandela was arrested along with fellow activist Cecil Williams near Howick.

Mandela was charged with advocating and inciting workers’ strikes and leaving the country illegally, without permission.

Mandela’s trial began in October.

He showed up for the proceedings wearing a traditional Kaross (a cloak made of sheepskin or with the hide of some other animal, with the hair still left on), while many supporters protested outside the court.

Mandela decided to use the trial to emphasize the ANC’s moral opposition to racism.

During the proceedings, he refused to call on any witnesses and turned his plea of mitigation into a political speech against racism and apartheid.

Nevertheless, Mandela was found guilty and sentenced to five years imprisonment.

Raid on Liliesleaf Farm

In July 1963, the police conducted a raid on Liliesleaf Farm, where Mandela was briefly based while in hiding.

The police uncovered paperwork documenting the MK’s activities, several of which had Mandela’s name mentioned in them.

Mandela, along with ten other comrades, was arrested and charged with Sedition of the Government, and with four counts of Sabotage and Conspiracy to violently overthrow the Government.

Thus would begin one of the most famous trials in history – The Rivonia Trial.

The Rivonia Trial

On 9th October 1963, the Rivonia Trial began.

But the presiding Judge soon discarded the prosecution’s case due to insufficient evidence. The prosecution then reformulated the charges and presented their case from December 1963 until February 1964, calling 173 witnesses and bringing thousands of documents and photographs to the trial.

Four of the accused completely denied involvement with the MK.

Nelson Mandela and five other accused admitted to the charges of sabotage but denied that they had decided to start a guerilla war against the Government.

The accused used the trial to highlight their cause.

During the defense proceedings, Mandela gave a three-hour speech from the dock, which was inspired by Fidel Castro’s ‘History Will Absolve Me’ speech.

Mandela’s speech came to be known as the ‘I Am Prepared To Die’ speech. At the end of the speech, Mandela uttered the following words:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

These words of his have become immortalized today.

The speech and the trial had been widely reported in the press despite official censorship, gaining international attention.

On 12th June 1964, Mandela and his comrades were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, even though the prosecution had tried for the death sentence to be applied.

Obviously, the verdict came as a huge relief to them.

In his autobiography, Mandela admitted that he and his comrades were expecting the death penalty, and were surprised to have received life imprisonment.

Mandela was only 46 years old when the sentence was passed. He was sent to the infamous Robben Island, where he would spend the next 18 years of his life.

Life on Robben Island

After the verdict of the Rivonia Trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela and his comrades were transferred from Pretoria to Robben Island Prison. There they were isolated from the non-political prisoners in a separate section.

Mandela was kept in a concrete cell measuring 8 feet by 7 feet and slept on a straw mat.

The political prisoners were forced to work at the limestone quarry, under the harsh sun, for years.

Working at the quarry had some serious consequences. The reflecting sunlight affected Mandela’s eyes. And the alkaline nature of the limestone burned his tear glands, which meant that he was unable to shed tears later on in life.

At first, Mandela was classified as a Class D prisoner. He was permitted only one visit and one letter every six months, and the letters were heavily censored.

Conditions in the prison were poor, and Mandela and his comrades held hunger and work strikes in order to improve prison conditions.

Mandela used his time in prison to forge relationships with political prisoners belonging to other parties, such as the PAC and the Yu Chi Chan Club. Together they all formed a group representing all political prisoners on the island.

During this time, Mandela also began working on his LLB degree through a correspondence course from the University of London. He also spent his free time reading books on diverse topics. He read biographies, historical books, novels, and other works of literature.

On a few occasions, Mandela was even kept in solitary confinement for either organizing strikes or for smuggling in newspapers which were forbidden.

While on the island, Mandela lost his mother and his firstborn son, Thembi. On both occasions, he was forbidden from attending the funeral.

In 1975, Mandela began writing his autobiography. Unfortunately, the prison authorities discovered the manuscript and revoked his study privileges for four years, thereby bringing his LLB studies to a halt.

Call for Mandela’s Release

By 1978, the campaign to free Nelson Mandela had gone international.

He was awarded numerous international awards and honorary degrees from across the globe.

In 1980, a ‘Free Mandela’ international campaign was launched, which led the UN Security Council to call for his release.

However, the Government still refused to release him. And ironically, the US Government (led by Ronald Reagan) and the UK Government (led by Margaret Thatcher) still considered the ANC a terrorist organization.

Pollsmoor Prison

In 1982, Nelson Mandela, along with Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, and Andrew Mlangeni, was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Tokai, Cape Town.

At Pollsmoor, the conditions were much better than at Robben Island.

Mandela developed a good relationship with the prison’s commanding officer, Brigadier Munro. He was now permitted one letter a week and was able to correspond more freely. He was also allowed to maintain a garden.

Mandela began to have secret meetings with the Minister of Justice, Kobie Coetsee. Negotiations were organized between Mandela and a team of four government officials.

The team asked Mandela and the ANC to permanently renounce violence, end ties with the Communist Party, and not insist on majority rule. And in return, the Government promised to release all political prisoners.

Mandela rejected these conditions. He insisted that the ANC would renounce violence only when the government renounced violence.

Victor Verster Prison

In 1988, Nelson Mandela, recovering from tuberculosis, was transferred to Victor Verster Prison near Paarl.

He was kept there in a comfortable house with a personal cook.

Mandela used his time at the Victor Verster to finally complete his LLB degree.

Now he was allowed to have as many visitors as he wanted. He also held secret communications with Oliver Tambo, who was still in exile.

A Sudden Change in the Political Scene

In 1989, Botha stepped down as the leader of the National Party after suffering a stroke, although he still retained the state presidency.

Botha was replaced by F.W. de Klerk as the leader of the National Party. And in the same year, Botha was replaced by F.W. de Klerk as state president.

De Klerk’s appointment to the Presidency changed the entire political situation in South Africa.

De Klerk was of the opinion that apartheid could not be sustained or continued anymore, and he ordered the release of a number of political prisoners.

In February 1990, de Klerk officially legalized all banned political parties, including the ANC, and also announced Mandela’s unconditional release.

Mandela’s Release from Prison

On February 11th, 1990, at the age of 72, Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison.

The footage of an old Nelson Mandela walking out of prison, upright and with dignity, triumphant and victorious, became one of the most iconic moments in the history of humanity.

He came out of prison as a mythical and heroic figure, who had suffered for the sake of his country and his people. His release symbolized the victory of Good over Evil. The victory of the Underdog. The victory of the Human Spirit.

Negotiations with the Government

After several negotiations between the Government and the ANC leadership, South Africa finally became a true democracy. A nation of One Man, One Vote.

Every human being, regardless of their race, was given Civil and Political Rights. Every adult South African was eligible to vote. Every South African mattered.

A new united and race-less South Africa was born.


In the General Election of 1994, the ANC won comfortably, taking 63% of the vote.

The newly-elected National Assembly elected Nelson Mandela to the Presidency.

On 10th May 1994, Nelson Mandela was officially sworn in as the first black President of South Africa. That day is marked as a significant day in the history of South Africa. A day to be remembered and cherished forever.

Mandela headed a Government of National Unity that also included representatives from the Inkatha and the National Party. And both Thabo Mbeki and de Klerk were appointed as Deputy Presidents.

National Reconciliation

Nelson Mandela wanted to ensure a smooth transition from white minority rule to a multi-cultural and multi-racial democracy.

He saw the importance of peace and reconciliation, and wanted to assure the white population that they were safe, protected, and represented in the new democratic South Africa.

Therefore, Mandela considered national reconciliation as the primary task of his presidency.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed in order to investigate crimes committed during apartheid by both the Government as well as the ANC.

Mandela appointed Desmond Tutu as the Commission’s chairman.

Retirement from Politics

In 1997, Nelson Mandela stepped down as ANC President. He was replaced by Thabo Mbeki.

In 1998, aged 80, Mandela married Graca Machel, who was the widow of Mozambique’s former President Samora Machel.

On 29th March 1999, Mandela gave his farewell speech in Parliament, just before the 1999 General Election. And in June of that year, Mandela officially stepped down as the President of South Africa and retired from active politics.

Life After Politics

After retiring from politics, Mandela dedicated his time to working with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which focused on school construction, rural development, and creating awareness about HIV/AIDS and combating it.


On 5th December 2013, aged 95, Nelson Mandela passed away after suffering from a prolonged respiratory infection.

President Jacob Zuma announced ten days of national mourning.

8th December was declared a national day of prayer and reflection. On 10th December, a memorial service was held at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium. And on 15th December, a state funeral was held in Mandela’s home village of Qunu.

The Father of South Africa was no more. The Great Man was gone.

And the world mourned his death.

The death of Nelson Mandela was not just a great loss to South Africa, but to Humanity as a whole.


The first political autobiography I ever read was Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. I found the book to be truly inspiring and life-changing. I couldn’t help but admire Mandela for who he was, who he eventually became, and what he stood for, not just for the South African people, but for Humanity as a whole.

Mandela stood for Freedom, Liberty, and Human Rights. He stood for Peace and Unity. And most of all, he epitomized the image of a selfless and humble leader, who represented the cause of humanity.

My opinion of Mandela is similar to the majority of the people who know of him. A great man with virtues and vices. A man of unparalleled humility.

People had made him a Demi-God, and yet he insisted on remaining the humblest of human beings.

Mandela forgave his enemies, and he pleaded with his people to do the same. He knew and understood that in order for South Africa to move forward, its people must unite regardless of what race they belonged to.

He was a lesson in humility, resilience, and strength. A lesson in greatness. And I believe that he is rightly regarded as one of the greatest men to have ever lived.

Rest assured, Nelson Mandela has earned a spot for himself in the pantheon of humble mortals, along with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln, who have now become immortals.