Nelson Mandela a Man of Many Faces (Update)

Nelson Mandela in Robben Island prison

Sources claim iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela, has died. He was a man of many faces: Law student; activist; terrorist, prisoner, politician and President. As head of the African National Congress (ANC) he saw the end of South Africa’s system of racial laws, known as Apartheid, and became the beloved President of the newly integrated nation.

Unlike Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Mandela showed restraint, guile and a conciliatory style of diplomacy which, without question, prevented what could have been a civil war and bloodbath, following the end of white rule. The white Afrikaners, descended from Dutch settlers, implemented the apartheid system in 1948. The African National Congress, which had been formed in 1912 as the South African Native National Congress, had been struggling to fight for the rights of blacks and attracted law student Mandela to their ranks. In 1955, he became President of the Transvaal branch of the ANC. In 1961, working in cooperation with the South African Communist Party, he founded the ANC’s paramilitary wing, known as Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”) or MK.

Already, Mandela had become a man of many faces. After leading a bombing campaign against the South African government, Mandela was arrested in 1962 for inciting a strike and illegally leaving the country – he had traveled, without permission, to Ethiopia – where he met with other African nationalist leaders – England and Algeria. He was initially sentenced to five years, but was later brought to trial for terrorism-related charges, after he had been linked to the militant activities of the MK. At his trial, Mandela, the former advocate for non-violent protest, justified his turning to violence; “It would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and nonviolence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle.”

For the next 27 years, Mandela was incarcerated at the infamous Robben Island prison and, later, at other locations. During these years, he grew to be a legend, a martyr and a hero for black South Africans. following his release, it seemed as if he was destined to become, first, leader of the ANC and then President of South Africa. The last of Mandela’s many faces was of beloved elder statesman and “Father of the Nation”. His passing marks the end of a painful, turbulent and remarkable era for South Africa.

Graham J Noble