The Rough Road to History

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Mandela

By Mike Akpan  |

CHALLENGE! This nine-letter word is no respecter of persons. Like death, no man can avoid it. Challenge comes at will in various forms or ways and dogs man in all spheres or stages of his life. Most often, it comes singly or in torrents when man least expects it or them. The challenge or challenges in a man’s life may be domestic, family, parental, social, marital, economic or political. Others may be educational, health, cultural, religious, racial, management, legal, environmental, leadership or professional. The list is endless and even gets longer as man climbs up the social ladder. How he responds to his challenges or manages them determines his success or failure in life as well as his place in history nationally or internationally. Experts in social psychology add that for man to succeed in managing his challenge or challenges, courage, determination and focus are the constant factors he requires.

Winnie
Winnie

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, first black South African president, had a lot of challenges in his life-time and the courage he exhibited in managing them has assured him of a generous space in the history of South Africa and the world. Mandela, who later answered Madiba, his Xhosa clan name, was born on July 18, 1918, into a harsh and challenging environment where racial segregation in South Africa had started in colonial times under Dutch and British rule. But apartheid as an official policy of the government was introduced in 1948 following a general election in which only the whites were allowed to vote. The Afrikaner-dominated Herenigde Nationale Party under Daniel Francois Malan, won that election and took over power. He thereafter united with the Afrikaner Party to form what became known as the National Party, NP.

In its bid to entrench the obnoxious apartheid system in governance, the NP introduced a series of legislations one of which classified residents into four racial groups namely “native,” “white,” “colored” and “Asian”. Consequently, residential areas were also segregated, sometimes, by forced removals. Twenty-two years later, that is ,in 1970, non-white political representation was completely abolished. In addition, black people were stripped of their South African citizenship with effect from that same year. In place of the South African citizenship, the blacks were forcibly made citizens of one of the 10 tribally-based self-governing Bantustan homelands created by apartheid legislation. Four of the so-called homelands were nominally independent states. Besides their loss of South African citizenship, the blacks also lost the right to quality basic social services. In line with its apartheid policy, the racist regime segregated educational and medical services as well as beaches among other public services enjoyed by the people. What that meant was that the quality of services offered to the blacks was by far inferior to those offered to the whites. These, and many other obnoxious apartheid policies were some of the challenges that stared Mandela in the face as he grew up within the apartheid enclave between 1918 and 1994.

Botha
Botha

Determined not to bow to the apartheid challenges, Mandela joined the African National Congress, ANC, in 1952 and played a key role in the Defiance Campaign organized by the Congress against the racist government that year. That role catapulted him to the position of president of the Transvaal ANC. Encouraged by that promotion, Mandela devoted most of his time to politics and guided the ANC to a more radical and revolutionary path. In September 1953, he made a very powerful speech titled: “No Easy Walk to Freedom” at a Transvaal ANC meeting. That speech was said to have laid out a contingency plan for a scenario in which the ANC was banned. The Mandela Plan, otherwise known as M-Plan, involved dividing the ANC into cell structure with a more centralized leadership. As president of Transvaal ANC, he also organised the Congress of the People in 1955. Predictably, his active involvement in anti-apartheid campaign threw up a lot of other challenges.

For instance, his marital life was seriously affected resulting in two failed marriages involving Evelyn and Winnie. His Bachelor of Arts degree programme at the University of Forte Hare, Alice, Eastern Cape, was abandoned when he fled to Johannesburg to avoid an imposed marriage by his family. His law programmes at the University of Witwatersrand was also abandoned in 1955 after failing his final law examination three times and the University of London law program was also seriously disrupted by his frequent arrests, detentions, restrictions of movements and imprisonments. Nevertheless, Mandela did not allow the failures to overwhelm him. He continued his law degree programme by correspondence at the University of South Africa and finally passed its qualifying examination to become a full-fledged attorney. Thereafter, he and Oliver Tambo opened a law firm called Mandela and Tambo, which was located in downtown Johannesburg. As the only black African law firm in the country then, it became very popular with aggrieved Africans who had cases of police brutality. Worried by the popularity of the law firm, the racist authorities withdrew its office permit under the Group Areas Act and forced Mandela and Tambo to relocate from the area. Expectedly, the relocation affected the fortunes of the law firm because its patronage by the blacks dwindled.

Malan
Malan

That was not all. The racist regime followed the relocation order with restrictions of their movements to certain parts of the country. The first such restriction came in December 1952 when Mandela was given a six-month ban from attending meetings or talking to more than one person at a time. The ban made it impossible for him to function as president of Transvaal African National Union, ANU. His second ban ended in September 1955 but in March 1956, he received a third ban which restricted his public appearances to only Johannesburg for five years. These restrictions, some of which he often breached, never deterred him. For instance, while he was restricted to Johannesburg, Mandela became the founding member of the ANC youth league. He was also a co-founder of the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe, (abbreviated as MK), which kicked off a bombing campaign against government targets in 1961.

The bombing campaign succeeded in exerting maximum pressure on the apartheid regime with minimum civilian casualties as the targets usually bombed at night were military installations, power plants, telephone installations and transport links. Mandela was eventually captured on August 5, 1962 along with Cecil Williams near Howick in Kwazulu-Natal, and charged with inciting workers’ strikes and leaving the country without permission. Mandela represented himself at his trial with Joe Slovo as his legal advisor. The trial was an opportunity for him to showcase ANC’s moral opposition to racism while his supporters demonstrated outside the court in solidarity. When his trial began on October 15, 1962, he disrupted proceedings by wearing a traditional kaross to court and refused to call witnesses to testify for him. He even turned his plea for mitigation into a political speech but the judge was not amused. He found him guilty as charged and sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment. Mandela served his term in Johannesburg’s Marshall Square prison where he began his correspondence studies for a Bachelor of Law degree with the University of London. He finally earned the degree in 1989 after passing through ups and turns.

Buthelezi
Buthelezi

As Mandela was still serving his prison term in Johannesburg, the police raided Liliesleaf farm, an ANC hideout, on July 11, 1963 arresting those they could find there. In the process, they discovered some documents detailing the activities of the MK, some of which mentioned Mandela’s name. He and his comrades were arraigned in court on a four-count charge of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government. At the Pretoria Supreme Court where they were tried, Mandela and his comrades, except James Kantor, who was found innocent, admitted the charges but denied that they had ever agreed to start a guerilla war against the government. As usual, Mandela saw their trial as an opportunity for him to make political speeches. One of such speeches was borrowed from that of Fidel Castro, Cuban president, titled: “History Will Absolve Me.” That speech gained global attention because of the wide publicity it received in the national and international media despite censorship by the government. There were calls by several groups, individuals and institutions including the United Nations and the World Peace Council, for the release of all the accused persons on trial. But Quartus de Wet, the trial judge, ignored all the international pressures on him and found Mandela and the co-accused guilty on all the four counts. Subsequently, he sentenced them to life imprisonment as opposed to the death sentences the prosecution demanded. Mandela and his colleagues were transferred from Pretoria prison to the lime quarry prison at Robben Island to begin their life imprisonment.

For the 18 years he stayed in the Robben Island prison, Mandela was kept in isolation in a damp concrete cell measuring eight feet (2.4m) by seven feet (2.1m) with a straw mat on which he slept. As if that was not humiliating enough, he was also verbally and physically harassed by white prison warders who were determined to break his rebellious anti-apartheid spirit. In the prison, Mandela and his comrades, in what came to be known as the Rivonia trial, were subjected to breaking rocks into gravel every day. As Mandela was forbidden from wearing sunglasses while breaking the rocks, the glare from the lime damaged his eyesight. Also, as a class D prisoner (the lowest rank in the prison system), Mandela was permitted only one visit and a letter every six months. In spite of the degrading circumstance he found himself, Mandela maintained his spirit and composure to work at night on his University of London law programme. Even though he was forbidden from reading newspapers, Mandela was punished on several occasions for being in possession of newspaper clippings smuggled into the prison. While in prison, Mandela lost his mother and his first son but was stopped from attending their funerals.

Reagan
Reagan

By 1969, Mandela would have been killed if an escape plan hatched for him by one Gordon Brown had been implemented. The plan was abandoned after it was discovered that an agent of the South African Bureau of State Security, BOSS, had infiltrated the group and perfected a plan to shoot Mandela during the escape. Meanwhile, as mental and physical harassment of black prisoners continued unabated, Mandela took advantage of the presence of judges who visited the prison in 1970, to complain against Piet Badenhost, the commanding officer. He was promptly reassigned and replaced by Willie Willemse, who developed a co-operative attitude towards Mandela and was keen to improve conditions at the prison. By 1975, Mandela had become a class A prisoner. This meant that he was allowed a greater number of visits and letters and also allowed to communicate with anti-apartheid activists like Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Desmond Tutu. The relaxed prison atmosphere enabled him to begin writing his autobiography which was smuggled to London but remained unpublished at that time. But when prison authorities discovered several pages of the manuscript that were left behind, his study privileges were stopped for four years.

In 1978, there was renewed international interest in Mandela’s plight. On July 18, of that year, which was his 60th birthday, a university in Lesotho honored him with a doctorate. Apart from the Nehru Prize for international understanding earlier awarded him in India in 1970, Mandela was awarded the Freedom of the City of Glasgow, Scotland, in 1980. In March that year, Percy Qoboza, a journalist, developed the “Free Mandela” slogan which instantly sparked off an international campaign which prompted the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution calling for his release from prison. But the racist government ignored all the international pressures on it because it relied on the support of Ronald Reagan, the then president of the United States, and Margaret Thatcher, then British prime minister, who considered Mandela to be a communist terrorist and the ANC, a communist outfit.

Williams
Williams

Instead, Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Tokai, Cape Town, along with four senior ANC leaders including Walter Sisulu in April 1982, in an effort to isolate them from younger activists who could be influenced by them. However, conditions in the new prison location were, somehow, better than what he had experienced at the lime quarry prison in Robben Island. Here, Mandela got on well with the commanding officer of the prison, one brigadier Munro, who permitted him to create a roof garden, read as he wished as well as allowed him to communicate widely. In that regard, he was permitted to receive 52 letters in a year. While in prison, Mandela was appointed patron of the United Democratic Front, UDF, a multi-racial anti- apartheid organisation founded to fight against reforms introduced by the racist President P. W. Botha. Botha’s ruling National Party had tried to divide the ranks of anti- apartheid movements along racial lines by permitting colored and Indians citizens, apart from the blacks, to vote for their own parliaments which would have control over education, health and housing.

As the racist regime was busy with plans to weaken anti- apartheid movements, international pressures mounted on it to release Mandela and others as well as put an end to apartheid policies. As part of the campaign, the Greater London Council socialist administration of Ken Livingstone, in 1985, erected the bust of Mandela on London’s Southbank. Within South Africa, there was an increase in violence across the country raising the specter of an imminent civil war. The situation prompted international lobby groups to mount pressures on multinational banks to stop investing in South Africa. The success of the campaign brought about economic stagnation in the country. This forced the multinational banks and Thatcher to call on Botha to release Mandela, then at the peak of international fame, to defuse the volatile political situation in the country. Forced against his will, Botha, who still regarded Mandela as an arch-Marxist, offered to release him from prison in February 1985 on condition that he “unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon.” Of course, Mandela rejected the offer saying through his daughter, Zindzi, that freedom for him was meaningless as long as the ANC remained banned. “What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people, ANC, remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”

Mbeki
Mbeki

In 1985, Mandela was given a new solitary residence after he underwent surgery on an enlarged prostate gland. That same year, an international delegation made up of seven “eminent persons” sent to negotiate a settlement met him but the racist regime refused to cooperate and, instead, imposed a state of emergency on the country in June followed by a police action to crackdown on the unrest. The crackdown did not stem the unrest. Rather, it increased the tempo of anti-apartheid resistance resulting in 231 attacks on targets in 1986 and 235 in 1987. The government responded to the attacks by using the army and right-wing paramilitaries and also secretly funded members of the Zulu nationalist movement, Inkatha, to attack members of the ANC. The crackdown complicated the violence prompting Mandela to request for talks with Botha. He turned down the request and, instead, allowed Kobie Coetsee, the then minister of justice, to meet secretly with Mandela. Consequently, Coetsee met with Mandela 11 times over a period of three years and organised negotiations between Mandela and a team of four government officials starting in May 1988. The team came up with a proposal for the release of political prisoners and the legalisation of the ANC on condition that they would permanently renounce violence, break links with the Communist Party and not insist on majority rule. Of course, Mandela rejected all the conditions that the ANC would only stop violence if the government first did so.

International campaign for Mandela’s release got a boost in 1988 when he clocked 70 years. His birthday celebration in July that year attracted international attention with the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, organising the Nelson Mandela 70th birthday tribute music gig at London’s Wembley  Stadium .Also that year, Mandela was under pressure from ANC leaders who encouraged him to divorce Winnie, alleging that she had set up and headed a criminal gang, the “ Mandela United Foot ball Club” which had been responsible for torturing and killing opponents including children in Soweto. Even when the trial was still on, Mandela was under intense pressure from top ANC leaders to divorce Winnie but he insisted that he would be loyal to her until she was pronounced guilty of the charges by the court.

President William J. Clinton
Clinton

After Mandela recovered from tuberculosis he suffered as a result of the dank conditions in his prison cell, he was moved to Victor Verster Prison near Paarl, in December 1988, where he lived in a warder’s house with relative comfort. Here, he had a personal cook and had enough time to complete his LLB degree with the University of London. Mandela also had the privilege to receive many visitors. This privilege afforded him an opportunity to organise secret communications with Tambo, exiled ANC leader. By this time, events had started to turn full scale. Botha was incapacitated by a stroke which forced him to step down as leader of the National Party but hanged on to the presidency. He was replaced by Frederick W. de Klerk. But in a surprise move, Botha invited Mandela to a meeting over tea in July 1989. Mandela honored that invitation which he considered genial. Six weeks later, de Klerk replaced Botha as president. De Klerk was a pragmatic leader who was quick to realise that with the turn of events in the country, apartheid could no more be sustained. He unconditionally released all ANC leaders except Mandela. But following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, de Klerk convened his cabinet to debate his proposal to legalise the ANC and free Mandela. Even though some arch- racist ministers deeply opposed the proposal, de Klerk went on with his plan and met with Mandela in December to discuss it before releasing him unconditionally and legalising all formerly banned political parties on February 2, 1990. He left Victor Verster Prison on February 11. As he stepped out of the prison to a massive crowd of supporters and journalists waiting to receive him, Mandela was seen holding Winnie’s hand. From the prison, they were driven to Cape Town City Hall where Mandela made a speech declaring his commitment to peace and reconciliation with the white minority but made it clear that ANC’s armed struggle would continue as “a purely defensive action against the violence of   apartheid.” He expressed the hope that the government would agree to negotiations so that “there may not be the need for the armed struggle.” Mandela also made it known that his main focus thenceforth would be how to bring peace to the black majority and give them the right to vote in national and local elections. The event was broadcast live across the world.

Slovo
Slovo

In May 1990, Mandela led a multiracial delegation into preliminary negotiations with a government delegation of 11 Afrikaner males. That negotiation led to the Groot Schuur Minute in which the government lifted the state of emergency in the country in August. But Mandela’s decision to offer a cease fire to the government because of his recognition that the ANC was disadvantaged militarily did not go down well with MK activists. This did not discourage him. Rather, he devoted his energy and time to build and unify the Congress. At a Johannesburg conference in December 1990 attended by 1600 delegates, Mandela surprised many of them who found him more moderate than expected. The following year, Mandela was elected ANC president to replace ailing Tambo at the July national conference of the Congress held in Durban. Also at that conference, a 50- member strong multiracial, multi-gendered national executive was elected to work with Mandela. The new president started his duties on a realistic note by first admitting that the Congress had made some mistakes in the past. He then announced his determination to build a “strong and well-oiled task force” to secure majority rule in the country.

Mandela’s first major challenge as ANC president was what to do with Winnie. He had come under intense pressure from the Congress to divorce her. He resisted the pressure initially when he moved with Winnie to her large Soweto home. But their marriage was increasingly strained when Mandela learnt that Winnie was entangled in a love affair with a young man known as Dali Mpofu. However, Mandela still kept his cool and supported her during her trial for kidnap and assault charges she faced in court. He even raised funds for her defense from International Defense and Aid and from Muammar Gaddafi, then the Libyan strongman. But the chickens came home to roost in June 1991 when she was found guilty of the charges and sentenced to six years in prison although it was reduced to two years on appeal. On April 13, 1992, Mandela stunned the world when he publicly announced that he had separated from Winnie. The ANC cashed in on the separation by forcing Winnie to step down from its national executive committee for misappropriation of Congress funds. This development, however, dented the global image of Mandela which was further damaged by the increase in black-on-black violence particularly between ANC and Inkatha supporters in KwaZulu-Natal, in which several thousands died. To save the situation, Mandela met with Buthelezi, Inkatha leader, but nothing came out of the meeting. Consequently, the ANC prevented further negotiations on the issue.

Thatcher
Thatcher

At this point, it was clear to Mandela that the government was secretly funding the Zulu National Movement otherwise known as Inkatha, to attack ANC members in order to exacerbate violence. Hence, Mandela openly accused de Klerk of sponsoring a “third force” within the state intelligence to fuel the “slaughter of the people,” citing the Sebokeng massacre as a case in point.  Mandela’s open accusation of the government prompted the convening of the national peace conference in September 1991 in Johannesburg where he, Buthelezi and de Klerk signed a peace accord even though violence still continued. Notwithstanding the continued violence, the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, CODESA, still kicked off in December 1991 at the Johannesburg World Trade Center and attended by 228 delegates from 19 political parties. Even though Cyril Ramaphosa led the ANC delegation to the convention, Mandela remained a key figure. He deftly demonstrated this fact when de Klerk used his closing speech at the convention to condemn the ANC for the prevalent violence in the country.

Mandela took to the stage and promptly denounced de Klerk as the “head of an illegitimate, discredited minority regime.” Although the convention, tagged “CODESA 1”, was dominated by the ANC and the NP, it achieved very little at the end. At the May 1992 convention, tagged “CODESA 2”, de Klerk insisted that post-apartheid South Africa must operate a federal system of government with a rotating presidency to ensure the protection of ethnic minorities but Mandela opted for a unitary system governed by majority rule. Even as negotiations were going on, state- sponsored terrorism continued leading to the massacre of ANC supporters by Inkatha militants in Boipatong, forcing Mandela to call off the negotiations. Before he left the country to attend the summit of the Organization of African Unity, OAU, in Senegal, Mandela called for a special session of the UN Security Council and proposed that a UN peacekeeping force be stationed in South Africa to prevent “state terrorism.” The UN responded to Mandela’s concern by sending Cyrus Vance as special envoy to South Africa to help in negotiations. In order to force the racist government to be serious with negotiations, the ANC organized the largest-ever strike and mass action in South African history during which its supporters marched on Pretoria in August 1992.

If the ANC ever had the notion that industrial action and mass protests could force the racist government to surrender political power to the blacks without negotiation, that belief was shattered by the Bisho massacre in which 28 of its supporters and one soldier were shot dead by the Ciskei Defense Force during one of its  protest marches. It soon dawned on Mandela that mass action would not achieve its objective but, instead, was leading to further violence. He decided to resume negotiations on conditions that all political prisoners be released, that Zulu traditional weapons be banned and that Zulu hostels be fenced off. The last two conditions were to prevent further Inkatha attacks on ANC supporters.  Under increasing pressure, de Klerk reluctantly accepted all the three conditions and that paved the way for negotiations to resume.

Tutu
Tutu

At the negotiations, the parties agreed that a multiracial general election be held in the country and that there would be a five-year coalition government of national unity and a constitutional assembly that would give the NP continuing influence in government. Even though the ANC also conceded to safeguard the jobs of white civil servants, this concession provoked internal criticism within its ranks. The parties at the negotiations agreed on an interim constitution which would guarantee separation of powers, create a constitutional court including a US-style bill of rights and also divided the country into nine provinces. Each of the provinces had its own premier and a civil service- a concession reached as a middle ground between de Klerk’s desire for federalism and Mandela’s insistence on a unitary form of government. This democratic process was seriously threatened by a group known as the Concerned South African Group, COSAG, an alliance of the far-right Afrikaner parties and black ethnic secessionist groups like Inkatha. The tense political situation became more complicated when, in June 1993, the white supremacist Afrikaner Weerstansbeweging, AWB, attacked the Kempton Park World Trade Centre and Chris Hani, an ANC leader, was murdered. Mandela saved the situation by making a publicised speech when he appeared at a mass funeral in Soweto for Tambo, who had died from a stroke. His speech calmed the rioters. For their role in pushing the democratic process forward, both Mandela and de Klerk were given the Liberty Medal when they independently met with the then President Bill Clinton in July 1993. Soon after, they were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway.

Mandela is famous today both in life and in death because throughout his lifetime, he had consistently been on the right side of history. Apart from his leading role in the struggle against apartheid, he also led negotiations with de Klerk to abolish the obnoxious system and paved the way for multiracial elections in which he led the ANC to victory in 1994. He was elected the first black president in a post-apartheid South Africa. In his determination to build a united, peaceful, multiracial nation, his first cabinet was a national government in which the ANC, the NP and Inkatha were fully represented. As president, he established a new constitution for the country and also the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, TRC, to investigate past human rights abuses and ultimately bring about genuine reconciliation. His government also introduced policies to encourage land reform, combat poverty and expand healthcare services in the country.

Mandela left a lesson for African leaders in particular and the world at large, to emulate. Unlike most African leaders who prefer to sit tight in office, he left office before completing his five-year tenure and handed over power to Thabo Mbeki, his deputy.  He decided to leave the stage when the ovation was still very high. Mandela also gave meaning to public office as a call to service by not using his position to accumulate wealth. It was the South African government that built a house for him in Johannesburg after he left power. As an elder statesman, he spent his life after politics on charitable work in combating HIV/AIDS through his Nelson Mandela Foundation, NMF. He also spent some of his time on peace mediation between countries. For instance, he mediated in the dispute between the United Kingdom and Libya occasioned by the Pan Am flight 103 bombing trial as well as in the negotiation that ended military intervention in Lesotho. It is therefore not surprising that Mandela was acclaimed a global citizen. That, indeed, explains why he received more than 250 national and international awards during his life time.

— Dec. 16, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

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