Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

South African black nationalist and statesman whose long imprisonment (1962-90) and subsequent ascension to the presidency (1994) symbolized the aspirations of South Africa's black majority.
The son of Chief Henry Mandela of the Xhosa-speaking Tembu tribe, Nelson Mandela was educated at University College of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand and qualified in law in 1942. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944 and in 1949 became one of that black-liberation group's leaders, helping to revitalize the organization and engaging in increasingly militant resistance against the apartheid policies of the ruling National Party. Mandela went on trial for treason in 1956-61 but was acquitted. During this extended trial he divorced his first wife and married Nomzamo Winifred (Winnie Mandela); they divorced in 1996. After the massacre of unarmed Africans by police forces at Sharpeville in 1960 and the subsequent banning of the ANC, Mandela abandoned his nonviolent stance and began advocating acts of sabotage against the South African regime. In 1962 he was jailed again and sentenced to five years' imprisonment.

In 1963 the imprisoned Mandela and several other men were tried for sabotage, treason, and violent conspiracy in the celebrated Rivonia Trial, named after a fashionable suburb of Johannesburg where raiding police had discovered quantities of arms and equipment at the headquarters of the underground Umkhonto We Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation," the ANC's military wing). Mandela had been a founder of the organization and admitted the truth of some of the charges that were made against him. On June 11, 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

From 1964 to 1982 he was incarcerated at Robben Island Prison, off Cape Town. He was subsequently kept at the maximum-security Pollsmoor Prison until 1988, at which time he was hospitalized for tuberculosis. Mandela retained wide support among South Africa's black population, and his imprisonment became a cause celebre among the international community that disapproved of apartheid. The South African government under President F.W. de Klerk released Mandela from prison on Feb. 11, 1990. On March 2 Mandela was chosen deputy president of the ANC (the president, Oliver N. Tambo, being ill), and he replaced Tambo as president in July 1991.

In 1993 Mandela and de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for their efforts to end apartheid and bring about a peaceful transition to nonracial democracy in South Africa. In April 1994 Mandela was elected president of South Africa in the country's first all-race elections. He introduced housing, education, and economic development initiatives designed to improve the living standards of the country's black population.

Mandela's writings and speeches were collected in No Easy Walk to Freedom (1965) and I Am Prepared to Die, 4th rev. ed. (1979). His autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, was published in 1994.

Mary Benson, Nelson Mandela (1986, reissued with additions, 1994); Fatima Meer, Higher Than Hope (1988, reprinted 1990).

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