BY Erharuyi Idemudia, 12:00am December 09, 2013,

Nkosi Sikelel’ iMadiba- {God Bless Mandela}, a Face2face Africa Tribute

Nkosi Sikelel’ iMadiba- {God Bless Mandela}, a Face2face Africa Tribute

A nationalist and pan-Africanist extraordinaire, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela stands as one of the greatest personalities in the history of Africa. From his humble beginnings on the streets of Qunu, this son of Africa rose to become a leader of a movement, a proud servant of an idea and ultimately the first black president and father of a nation. Similar to the tribulations of an iron rod burned in a furnace to create steel, Mandela overcame oppression inflicted upon him by the Apartheid government in South Africa and emerged from said suffering stronger and more determined. It is this might and resolve that forged his indefatigable character and transformed Mandela into one of the greatest individuals the world has ever known.

Born to the house of a local chief, Mandela had a natural sense of responsibility towards his people. He explained that he inherited his character of “proud rebelliousness” and his “stubborn sense of fairness” from his father. These traits will go a long way to craft his core, and as a consequence, Nkosi Sikelel’ iMadiba- {God Bless Mandela}, a Face2face Africa Tributedirect his destiny. 

Proverbially, it is said that “a man who stands for nothing, will fall for anything.” The very essence of the aforementioned proverb touches on defiance and purpose ─the sort that defines the very foundation of a person’s character. As a young man, Mandela began to understand the need for Africa’s independence from colonial interference. As a result, he formed valuable relationships with pro-African activists and the African National Congress (ANC), an organization created in response to the systemic oppression and injustice towards black South Africans by the Apartheid government.

In 1944, Mandela and some associates proposed the need for, and realized the founding of, a youth representation of the ANC. Accordingly, the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) was created in order to mobilize black South Africans, en masse, to defend their human and civil rights.

In 1950, Mandela was elected the national President of the ANCYL. The organization continued its policy of civil disobedience in protest against the oppressive laws enacted by the Apartheid government. More often than not, these protests were met with violent police opposition. However, that did not discourage the oppressed from demanding liberation. In fact, during the early 1950s, the membership of the ANC grew significantly. This worried the Apartheid government and led to the ban of an ANC regional President, J.B. Marks, who was replaced by Mandela. However, not too long into Mandela’s regional presidency of the ANC, he too was banned.

As a consequence of Mandela’s ban, he decided to concentrate on his professional life as an attorney. In August 1953, Mandela and his friend, Oliver Tambo, established a law firm, Mandela & Tambo. At that time, the law firm was renowned for its status as the only African-operated law firm in South Africa. Although Mandela could no longer oppose and challenge injustice under the umbrella of the ANC; through Mandela & Tambo, he continued his fight for equal rights and justice for his people. Hence, the law firm was popular amongst black South Africans who sought representation against charges brought against them by the Apartheid government. 

Nkosi Sikelel’ iMadiba- {God Bless Mandela}, a Face2face Africa Tribute

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, having returned to the ANC after the expiration of his ban, Mandela began to fully appreciate the momentous task facing the ANC. He realized that the ANC’s policy of non-violence lacked effectiveness since the Apartheid government was unaffected by civil disobedience. Consequently, Mandela opined that the ANC may have “no alternative to armed and violent resistance.” In 1961, Mandela co-founded a military group, Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”). Although the group was originally separate from the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe later became the military representative of the ANC. As part of its policy to defeat Apartheid policies, the group set up plans to sabotage the Apartheid government, and created further plans to bomb military installations, power plants and transport links. However, although its plans were violent, the group had no intention of harming civilians. As a result, the group decided to attack only at nights, in order to eliminate or reduce the possibility of civilian casualties.

On February 10, 1985, Mandela recalled the reasons behind the ANC’s decision to depart from non-violent civil disobedience, which led to the founding of Umkhonto we Sizwe. Mandela explained: “My colleagues and I wrote in 1952 to Malan [former Apartheid leader of South Africa] asking for a round table conference to find a solution to the problems of our country, but that was ignored. When Strijdom [former Apartheid leader of South Africa] was in power, we made the same offer. Again it was ignored. When Verwoerd [former Apartheid leader of South Africa] was in power we asked for a national convention for all the people in South Africa to decide on their future. This, too, was in vain. It was only then, when all other forms of resistance were no longer open to us, that we turned to armed struggle.” On December 16, 1961, Umkhonto we Sizwe executed 57 bombings and again on December 31, 1961, the group carried out further attacks.

On August 5, 1962, Mandela was captured by the police and was charged with “inciting workers’ strikes and also leaving the country without permission.” Mandela defended himself, pro se, and used the trial as a platform to present “the ANC’s moral opposition to racism.”  He was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. As he exited the courtroom, a large group of supporters outside the courtroom sang the great pan-African liberation anthem: Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica (God Bless Africa).

On July 11, 1963, the police raided a farm house and arrested members of Umkhonto we Sizwe. On documents seized in the raid, Mandela’s name was mentioned, as well as incriminating activities of the group. A trial commenced on October 9, 1963 and Mandela was charged with four counts of sabotage and treason.

Although the case was initially thrown out by the judge due to insufficient Nkosi Sikelel’ iMadiba- {God Bless Mandela}, a Face2face Africa Tributeevidence, the prosecutor returned with more witnesses, documents and photographs. Mandela was then found guilty on all four charges and sentenced to life in prison. In an exhibition of strength in character and defiance of his oppressor, Mandela addressed the court: “During my lifetime I have dedicated my life 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 will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Subsequently, Mandela was imprisoned in a damp, small concrete cell at Robben Island. He would spend the following 27 years at Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison.

In the early 1980s, South Africa was under political turmoil and violent civil unrest spread across the country. Due to international pressure, then President of Apartheid South Africa, P.W. Botha, decided to offer Mandela a deal. He believed that if he released Mandela from prison, said gesture would quell the unrest. On January 31, 1985, Botha offered Mandela freedom on the condition that Mandela “unconditionally reject violence as a political weapon.” Mandela’s response was an act that defined his character as a true leader. Rather than accept the offer of freedom, Mandela declined Botha’s offer.

On February 10, 1985, Mandela issued a statement: “I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.” Mandela’s words and his action was a testament to his character. Lesser men would immediately accept the deal and live the rest of their days, content. However, for Mandela, as he explained in a CNN interview, he never regretted the time he could not spend with his family. Instead, he was comforted that everything he did was done for the love of his people.

On February 11, 1990, Mandela was released from prison. He declared his commitment to peace and reconciliation with members of the Apartheid government and white South Africans. Nonetheless, he made it clear that the ANC will employ armed force if necessary, as “a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid.” He hoped that the Apartheid government will agree to negotiations, so that there need not be armed retaliation. In July 1991, during the ANC’s national conference in Durban, South Africa, Mandela was elected President of the ANC. Subsequently, the ANC and the Apartheid government began to work together in an attempt at nation building and to end Apartheid. As a consequence of their work together, in 1993, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Mandela and the President of South Africa who had succeeded Botha, Frederik Willem de Klerk. The Nobel committee stated that both men had been awarded the Nobel “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.”

In 1994, South Africa held its presidential election and for the first time, Mandela was given the right to vote and contest. He voted at the Ohlange High School in Durban, South Africa and after receiving 62% of the national vote, Mandela was elected the first black president of the Republic of South Africa.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iMadiba- {God Bless Mandela}, a Face2face Africa Tribute

On May 1994, having been inaugurated the President of the Republic of South Africa, it was widely expected that the ANC will dominate South Africa’s new government. In fact, many believed Mandela and the ANC would exact revenge on members of the Apartheid government and white South Africans. On the contrary, Mandela was magnanimous. It is stated that “the true worth of a man’s character is most evident by how he treats those who he need not treat well.” Mandela’s character shone brightly, as he kept his word of reconciliation and acceptance. He appointed the former President of the Apartheid government, de Klerk, as the first Deputy President and allowed de Klerk to retain the presidential residence in the Groote Schuur estate. Mandela also reassured white South Africans that his government will protect them, and insisted that they were part of the new “Rainbow Nation.” Furthermore, he insisted on safeguarding the jobs of white civil servants and former employees of the Apartheid regime. Consequently, he directed his officers to refrain from terminating the employment of any white South African or former Apartheid employee.

I could write the most articulate and best rhythmic farewell to conclude this tribute. However, for Mandela, that is unnecessary. In 1996, Mandela declared a more fitting farewell. He said that “death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for eternity.” All that need be said is Nkosi Sikelel’ iMadiba!

Last Edited by: Updated: June 19, 2018


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