Today, millions all over the world criticize racism, or any form of discrimination on the basis of caste, colour, creed or sex. But till 1994, Apartheid or a system of racial segregation was a system of governance in South Africa, under which the rights of the majority of the black inhabitants was curtailed and white supremacy and Afrikaan minority rule was maintained. The situation was such that non-white political representation was completely abolished and black people were even deprived of their citizenship. In spite of violating international law, apartheid continued to exist in South Africa, crippling its black citizens of their fundamental rights, making life a living hell all because of their colour and race.
But like that silver lining behind every cloud, there was Nelson Mandela. The man, who is fighting death at the moment, rescued his country and his countrymen from this regressive idea of apartheid which was nothing less than an insult to their precious lives.The man who truly believed that: “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”
Most of the initial protests were in the form of passive resistance. In one protest against apartheid Mandela publicly burnt his ‘pass’. These passes had to be carried by all black men and they were not allowed to leave their own district without a pass. But Mandela came to the opinion that the ANC (his party) “had no alternative to armed and violent resistance” after taking part in the unsuccessful protest to prevent the demolition of the all-black Sophiatown suburb of Johannesburg in February 1955. He realised that passive resistance was not winning the fight. Plans were made to bomb places of significance to apartheid, but these were always planned to avoid anyone being hurt or killed. Nelson Mandela was tried for treason in 1955 and in 1956 he was acquitted with most other ANC executives. In 1964 he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Then began another struggle in prison where he was classified as the lowest grade of prisoner and permitted one visit and one letter every six months. He was made to work in a lime quarry, without using sunglasses which damaged his eyesight forever. But in spite of these conditions he continued with his law studies and initiated the University Of Robben Island, where prisoners lectured on their own areas of expertise, while he debated topics such as homosexuality and politics with his comrades.
By the late 1960s, Mandela’s fame had been eclipsed by Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). Seeing the ANC as ineffectual, the BCM called for militant action, but following the Soweto uprising of 1976, many BCM activists were imprisoned on Robben Island. Mandela tried to build a relationship with these young radicals, although he was critical of their racialism and contempt for white anti-apartheid activists. By this time Mandela went onto celebrate his 60th birthday, which renewed international interest, with him receiving honorary doctorates and awards from several countries. Even the UN Council called for his release but despite the increasing foreign pressure the Government refused relying mainly on the powerful Cold War allies in US president Ronald Reagan and UK president Margaret Thatcher, who considered Mandela to be a “communist terrorist”.
In February 1985, he was offered release from prison on condition that he “unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon“. Mandela returned the offer, releasing a statement stating “What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people [ANC] remains banned?” By then the anti-apartheid resistance fought back, with the ANC committing 231 attacks in 1986 and 235 in 1987. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and a change in presidency he was finally granted release after a number of negotiations. Thereafter, another prolonged series of negotiations starting from 1990 brought about an end to apartheid, a result of his life-long toil starting from 1948.
Furthermore, he went onto become the first black President of the country in 1994 assuming office in a situation when there was a marked disparity between the blacks and the whites in terms of wealth and services. He established in 1995, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which investigated human rights violations under apartheid, and he introduced housing, education, and economic development initiatives designed to improve the living standards of the country’s black population. Mandela handled his administration ably and his tenure was by and large successful despite the few controversies and shortcomings.
Today, as I pen down this article, this fighter, revolutionary and crusader of human rights, fights another battle to cling on to his dear life.I end with the hope that he gets well soon and keeps inspiring various other youngsters and world citizens who dream to make this world a better place. In Mandela’s very own words:
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling,
but in rising every time we fall.”