by Jocelyn G., age 12
Alone in a jail cell sat a man. He was hungry. He was lonely. He was terrified. He had come “face to face with time.” Nelson Mandela was the best known South African freedom fighter. From early life, he knew that he wanted to help people in a way that made them feel free, and he was willing to do anything to accomplish that. He felt that it was his duty to change the unjust world around him. Throughout his early life, incarceration, and presidency, Nelson Mandela made the lives of his people better than they had ever been before.
Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, South Africa. He was born the son of Chief Henry Mandela of the great Tembu speaking Madiba tribe. When he had come of age, he was to become chief. Instead, he gave up his royal claim to become a lawyer. Mandela went to South African Native College, which was later given the title, University of Fort Hare. He later attended the University of Witwatersrand to study law. While in college he not only witnessed, but experienced the hardships of the black population of South Africa under apartheid. Apartheid was a set of laws similar to the Jim Crow laws that Americans fought to end in the early to mid-twentieth century. It divided people of various races into separate cities, neighborhoods, restaurants, drinking fountains, public restrooms, and the like. White South Africans were given the best of most everything while the black population lived in extreme poverty. Mandela and thousands of other black South Africans wanted to put an end to these unfair laws. In 1944 Nelson Mandela joined the African National Congress, otherwise known as the ANC. Finally in 1952 with the help of his friend Oliver Tambo, Mandela achieved his dream in establishing the first black law practice in South Africa, which investigated the injustices of apartheid. It was then when Mandela decided that his life’s goal was to play a role in ending apartheid.
In 1956 Nelson Mandela and over one hundred others were arrested and charged with high treason for their acts against apartheid. Mandela and these others were only fighting for what was right, but it was illegal to disregard the law even if the law was unjust. Thankfully the charges toward the antiapartheid activists were dropped. Nelson Mandela realized that nonviolent action towards the end of apartheid was not for him because the nonviolent process was not working, and the government would not listen. He went to Algeria to train in guerilla warfare and sabotage in 1962. Shortly after his return he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for training in sabotage and for attempting to use guerilla warfare against the government. While Mandela was spending time in prison, the police found an arsenal of weapons in the headquarters of the military wing of the ANC, which was called Umkhonto we Sizwe, and was otherwise known as the “Spear of the Nation.” As a result, Mandela, narrowly escaping the death sentence, was sentenced to life in prison. While in prison, Mandela was visited by a man named F.W. de Klerk. Over time they became great friends. After twenty-six years of imprisonment, on February 11, 1990, his loyal friend, now South African president, released him. This historic event marked the beginning of social change in South Africa.
In 1993 Mandela and de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their continuous efforts to end apartheid. In 1994 President de Klerk allowed free elections so that people of any race could not only vote, but truly have a say about who is elected and how their government is run. That same year Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa’s first black president, which demonstrated that apartheid was finally coming to an end. Mandela did as much as he could during his term as president to end apartheid and everything that had resulted from it. In that time he also founded the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, which searched South African law to find any unjust faults caused by apartheid and made them right. Nelson Mandela never sought a second term, so in 1999 he retired as a politician. In 2009 the United Nations declared that Mandela’s birthday, July 18, be celebrated as Nelson Mandela International Day. On December 5, 2013, Mandela died in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the age of ninety-five. He is remembered for his heart that did whatever was needed to change people’s lives for the better.
Nelson Mandela was admired for his life of fighting for freedom. In his early life, incarceration, and presidency, freedom for all people was his aspiration. He chose to become not only an advocate for black South Africans, but for people of all races because he believed that freedom belongs to everyone. He spent nearly half of his life in prison, fighting for the freedom of people he would never know. Nelson Mandela inspired others to take a stand against injustice and to fight for freedom, and today his story continues inspiring us to do the same.
Dixon, Letricia. “Nelson Mandela.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 2019. Print
“Nelson Mandela’s Life and Times.” BBC News, 8 June 2013. Web.