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Nelson Mandela: The man who was prepared to Die 

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This was the year 1998, 72,000 people in Wembley stadium in London including millions of others watching TV harmonizes on the same tune. The song seeking the freedom of their hero. They sang “Free Nelson Mandela”.

The pressure produced results, and in 1990, President FW de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC. Mr. Mandela was released from prison and talks on forming a new multi-racial democracy for South Africa began.

It all started when, 23 years old Rolihlahla Dalibhunga, son of royal counselor ran away from an arranged marriage in 1941 to Johannesburg. There he enrolled for a law degree at the mainly white Witswaterand University. While getting familiar with different races, there, he was exposed to liberal, radical and Africanist thought, as well as racism and discrimination, it was the time when his passion for politics established and he went to join African National Congress (ANC) and later co-founded the ANC Youth League.

Mr. Mandela qualified as a lawyer and in 1952 opened a law practice in Johannesburg with his partner, Oliver Tambo. 

The same year Mandela played an important role in launching a campaign of defiance against South Africa’s pass laws, which required nonwhites to carry documents known as passes, passbooks, or reference books, authorizing their presence in areas that the government deemed “restricted” i.e., generally reserved for the white population. He traveled across the country as a part of this campaign in order to gather support to fight against it with a nonviolent means. 

In 1955 Mandela was also involved in drafting the Freedom Charter, a document calling for nonracial social democracy in South Africa.

His consistently growing movement and activism made him the frequent target of the authorities.

One year later, in December,  Mandela was charged with high treason, which was designed to harass antiapartheid activists, along with 155 other activists, but the charges against him were dropped after a four-year trial.

Resistance against apartheid continued to grow in veins of the country. Especially against the new Pass Laws, which dictated where black people were allowed to live and work. In 1960 Tension soared when 69 black people were shot dead by police in the Sharpeville massacre, this was the same year when ANC was outlawed and Mandela went Underground. 

This is when he jilted his Non-violent stance and began practicing acts of sabotage against the South African regime.  

The Rising 

When he went underground he founded  Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”), the military wing of the ANC. In 1962 he went to Algeria for training in guerrilla warfare and sabotage, returning to South Africa later that year. On August 5, shortly after his return, Mandela was arrested at a roadblock in Natal; he was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison.

He was tried along with others who were imprisoned in the infamous Triviola Trial. Where he admitted some of the charges against him was classic defense of liberty. His speech grabbed international attention and later published under the title of ‘i am prepared to die.’ 

Some of his lines were: 

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” he said.

“It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

On June 12, 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, narrowly escaping the death penalty.

He remained in the prison of Robben Island for 18 years before being transferred to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland in 1982.

This exile didn’t stop the country from revolting against apartheid. The youth of the nation continued the fight he envisioned for. 

In 1980, the ANC led by the exiled Mr. Tambo, launched an international campaign against apartheid but ingeniously decided to focus it on one cause and one person – the demand to release Mr. Mandela. 

Which takes us to the historic event of 1988 in Wembley stadium. 

In December 1993, Mr. Mandela and Mr de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Five months later, for the first time in South Africa’s history, all races voted in democratic elections and Mr. Mandela was overwhelmingly elected president.

There were problems he faced even after his leadership such as housing shortage for poor, slums township, etc. 

While successfully persuaded the multinationals to invest in his South Africa by handling the ceremonial duties as a leader, while his deputy Thabo Mbeki was charged with day to day business of the government. 

After his stepping down from the post of president his most of the public appearances were related to the charitable fund he founded, The Mandela fund. 

Mandela Day, observed on Mandela’s birthday, was created to honor his legacy by promoting community service around the world. It was first observed on July 18, 2009, and was sponsored primarily by the Nelson Mandela Foundation 

His writing and speeches are still prevailing in form of books such as ‘I am prepared to die’, The Struggle Is My Life, In His Own Words, including his autobiography ‘Long walk to freedom.’ 

Written by Iqra Razi, She is Journalism graduate from Indian Institute of Mass Communication New Delhi.

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