BY WALTER OPINDE
On this day, 5th August, 1962, Nelson Madiba Mandela was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for inciting a workers’ strike in 1961. A year later, in July 1963, the government launched a raid on the Lilliesleaf farm in Rivonia, which had been used as an ANC hideout. It arrested 19 ANC leaders and discovered documents describing MK’s plans for attacks and guerilla warfare.
The government charged 11 ANC leaders, including Mandela, with crimes under the 1962 Sabotage Act. At the Rivonia Trial, Mandela chose not to take the witness stand; instead, he made a lengthy statement from the dock on 20th April, 1964. In his statement, he explained the history and motives on the ANC and MK, admitting to many of the charges against him and defending his use of violence.
Nelson Mandela concluded, “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.”
Mandela was found guilty on four charges of sabotage on 11th June. The following day, he and seven on his co-defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment, avoiding the death sentence. Mandela and the other six non-white defendants were sent to the prison on Robben Island, a former leper colony located off the coast of Cape Town.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a great pan-Africanist, politician, philanthropist, and anti-apartheid revolutionary leader. He became the first black president of South Africa in 1994, serving for only one term until 1999. Mandela studied law at the University of Fort Hare and later at the University of the Witwatersrand before working as a lawyer in Johannesburg.
Nelson Mandela was a controversial political figure for much of his life. Although critics on the right denounced him as a communist terrorist while those on the radical left deemed him too eager to negotiate and reconcile with apartheid’s supporters, he gained international reputation for his activism. Widely regarded as an icon of democracy and social justice, he received more than 250 honors – including the Nobel Peace Prize; he also became the subject of a cult of personality. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to by his Xhosa clan as Madiba, and described as the “Father of the Nation.”
Throughout South Africa’s early history as Dutch (Orange Free State) and British (Cape) colonies, native Africans were discriminated against. Slavery was formally abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833, but indentured servitude persisted for decades. Even in 1936, nearly all non-whites were effectively banned from voting in South Africa. This discrimination grew worse after the National Party came to power in 1948.
Nelson Mandela, a leader in the African National Congress (ANC), an organization dedicated to protesting the South African government’s policy of apartheid, had been arrested in 1956 on treason charges but was acquitted. The ANC had been banned by the government in 1960, following the Sharpeville massacre. Mandela was forced to go underground, adopting a number of disguises; sometimes a laborer and other times a chauffeur. The press had dubbed him “the Black Pimpernel” because of his ability to evade the police.
In 1961, believing that non-violent measures would not be successful, Mandela and other ANC leaders formed Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), a militant wing of the ANC. Beginning on December 16, 1961, MK, with Mandela as its commander in chief, launched bombing attacks on government targets and made plans for guerilla warfare.
Mandela died, after suffering from prolonged respiratory complications, on 5th December, 2013, at the age of 95, in his home in Houghton.
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