On this day in Black history, international peacemaker, humanitarian, voice of reason, and first President of South Africa Nelson Mandela was released from his imprisonment at Victor Verster Prison.
On August 5, 1962 Mandela was captured along with Cecil Williams near Howick, KwaZulu-Natal South Africa. Mandela was arrested and convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state. His true “crime” was standing up against a government that was committing heinous crimes against human rights towards Black South Africans.
Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in the village of Mvezo in Umtata, then part of South Africa’s Cape Province. Mandela’s known as one of the most prominent anti-apartheid revolutionaries. Apartheid was a system in South African built to oppress the native Black South Africans by ruling class European immigrants.
Born Xhosa to the Thembu royal family, was from the start a respected member of his community. He studied law at Fort Hare University and the University of Witwatersrand. In Johannesburg he became involved in anti-colonial politics ad joined the ANC and also founded the ANC Youth League.
In 1948, when the Afrikaner minority government of the National Party established the apartheid system, Mandela rose to prominence in the ANC’s Anti-Apartheid Defiance Campaign. He was appointed to superintendent of the program.
Mandela was repeatedly arrested for his work he did as a lawyer fighting institutionalized oppression. He was unsuccessfully prosecuted in a Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961 for his excessive “civil disobedience.” His Marxist influence prompted him to join the South African Communist Party after the trial.
As a part of the SACP, Mandela founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961 and lead a sabotage campaign against the government power of the time. In 1962, Mandela was arrested and convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state and sentenced to imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.
Mandela served 27 years in prison, initially on Robben Island, and later at Pollsmoor Prison and finally Victor Verster Prison. An international campaign of support from people of all races, creeds, classes, and backgrounds petitioned for his release. They achieved their goal in 1990. Upon his release, Mandela began negotiations with President F. W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish a multicultural election. In 1994 he achieved his goal and the first multicultural South African election was held and with the help of ANC, Mandela was elected the first true President of the South African people.
Along with leading the South African Government of National Unity and drafting a new constitution for South Africa, Mandela created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate and eradicate past human rights violations against any South African.
Nelson Mandela’s administration was able to introduce much change into the South African government structure. He brought about land reform, combated poverty, and expanded health care services. Internationally, Mandela is known as a peace keeper and helped mediate between Libya and the United Kingdom in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial and oversaw military intervention in Lesotho.
Although he may be the most successful president in South African history, and is definitely in the running for one of the best world leaders in history, he declined to run for a second term and was succeeded by Thabo Mbeki.
Post presidency, Mandela became an elder statesman and changed his primary focus to charitable work to combat poverty and the pandemic of HIV/AIDS through his Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Before his passing on December 5th, 2013, Mandela gained international acclaim as an activist and has received more than 250 national and international honors including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Soviet Lenin Peace Prize. He is held in the highest regard in South Africa and before his death was referred to as Madiba or Tata, meaning “father”, by his Xhosa clansmen. Mandela is known internationally as the “Father of Nation.”