Archive | December, 2013

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

6 Dec

Mandela casting his vote in the 1994 elections.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” — Nelson Mandela (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995)

Nelson Mandela, who fought against apartheid and eventually guided South Africa into a new  free, Democratic era , has died at the age of 95. Mandela was deeply connected to the political struggle in South Africa. He helped form the  African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) a branch of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944. Mandela studied law and  in 1953 formed a law firm Mandela and Tambo with his friend and colleague, Oliver Tambo. As the only African-run law firm in the country they often took on cases of police brutality and the company had their office permit removed under the Group Areas Act, a restrictive law that enforced segregation and dictated where whites, blacks, and others could live and work.

Throughout these years there were numerous marches and protests, including the women’s anti-pass campaign which occurred from 1952-1956. The Blackside pilot program Hopes on the Horizon included a segment on this important campaign where black South African women protested the pass laws that required all black persons over the age of 16 to carry papers on them at all times. Called a “reference book,” this document required an employer’s signature, needed to be authorized and noted whether the person had paid current taxes. Pass laws were used as a way to control and threaten the black population. Any white person could ask to see a black person’s pass and failure to produce it could result in arrest.

Members of the ANC, including Mandela’s colleague, Lillian Ngoyi were instrumental in organizing a protest of 20,000 women against the repressive pass laws. The women in the march chanted the phrase ‘wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo’ (You Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock) that became a rallying cry for the movement.


The 1950s and early 1960s were a volatile political time and Mandela continued to confront the extremely repressive apartheid regime in South Africa. Mandela was arrested numerous times for his political activity and was eventually convicted with sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government.

After spending 27 years in jail, Mandela was released in 1990, continued his political work, and became president of South Africa in 1994 in the first representative democratic election in the country’s modern history. Mandela’s accomplishments, too numerous to list here, included creating the Truth and Reconciliation Committee which many credit as helping to usher in a peaceful transition from apartheid to a democratic era.