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posted 5 Dec 2013, 15:23 by Gerry Kangalee
For some people Nelson Mandela was just the President of “The Rainbow country.” For Margaret Thatcher and the right-wing conservative forces, Mandela was a terrorist. Still for others, he is seen as a Black Nationalist, yet others see him as the saviour of capitalism in South Africa. 


This essay establishes that Nelson Mandela was a “freedom fighter.” The Merriam-Webster defines a freedom fighter as, “a person who takes part in a resistance movement against an oppressive political or social establishment.” From the time he became a member of the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to the struggle: first for the oppressed and marginalized people in South Africa and second to all oppressed and marginalized and downtrodden people of the World.


Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918.  at Mvezo in South Africa. Early in life, he learned that all Xhosas and all South African black people were conquered people as well as slaves in the land of their birth and had no power and control of their destinies.  


However, this level of consciousness took a while to develop because Mandela was very naïve about class relations in South Africa. He was of the view that the African chief was the oppressor, and the white man was the benefactor. He noted that he was quite prepared to rebel against the social system maintained by his ethnic group rather than fight against the political system that the racist regime imposed on black South Africans.


His understanding of oppression and class relations grew leaps and bounds when he met Gaur Radebe, a member of the ANC. Unlike the young Mandela who thought that education would change South Africa, Gaur believed that education by itself was not the only solution for black South Africans. He argued that black South Africans should join the ANC and participate in the struggle.


 Gaur played an important role in Mandela’s political evolution. Mandela noted that Gaur was totally committed to the freedom struggle and saw revolution as the only solution to the liberation of South Africa.  This new perspective of “turning South Africa upside down” became clearer to Mandela from 1946 onwards.


The first event occurred in 1946 when 70,000 African miners took strike action for a week in their demands for increased wages, housing, and vacation leave. The state responded very swiftly by suppressing the strike, crushing the union, jailing, and prosecuting fifty-two workers for sedition.  


Moreover, Mandela’s consciousness of the need to become a freedom fighter heightened when the Smuts government passed the Asiatic Land Tenure Act in 1946. This draconian law restricted the movement of South Africans of Indian descent and also restricted their right to own property.


This oppressive piece of legislation galvanized the Indian community and inspired the ANC youth. Mandela noted that, the Indian struggle against the Apartheid regime “…instilled a spirit of defiance and radicalism among the people, broke the fear of prison, and boosted the popularity of the NIC (Natal Indian Congress) and TIC (Transvaal Indian Congress)."


Furthermore, when the Nationalist Party took power, it introduced a number of laws that outlawed the Communist Party of South Africa, passed the Population Registration Act and the Group Areas Act of 1950, the Public Safety Act of 1953. The passage of these pieces of notorious legislation made it difficult for the ANC to operate and as a result, Mandela was arrested on July 30, 1952 and was charged for violation of the Suppression of Communism Act.


In 1953, at the age of thirty-five, Mandela had matured politically and he made a commitment to the ANC, and the liberation struggle. He realized that as the Apartheid regime introduced more and more repressive measures the ANC needed to change its strategy.

In 1956 one hundred and fifty six people, including Mandela, were arrested and charged with High Treason. The case dragged on until 1961 when the charges were dropped.


In 1961, after long debates within the ANC, the leadership formed Umkhonto we Sizwe as the armed wing of the ANC; It was also known as MK and translated as “Spear of the Nation.


Mandela, who was one of the co-founders, noted that, “At the beginning of June 1961, after a long and anxious assessment of the South African situation, I, and some colleagues, came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force.”  


MK launched its first guerrilla attacks against government installations on 16 December 1961. It was subsequently classified as a terrorist organization by the South African government and the United States, and banned.


For his participation in the bombing operations, Mandela was arrested in 1962 convicted of sabotage, and conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial. Mandela served twenty-seven years in prison first at Robben Island, then at Pollsmoor and Victor Vester Prisons. Released on February 11, 1990, Mandela subsequently became the first black President of South Africa from 1994-1999.


Nelson Mandela has been denounced as a terrorist and as a communist sympathizer. Later on he was accused of negotiating a post-Apartheid settlement that favoured international capital rather than the majority of black South Africans. However Mandela is viewed, history will record that he was a freedom fighter, who committed his life to the struggle for freedom, human dignity, human rights, bread, and justice.