How Did Nelson Mandela Shape the Course of South African History?

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in the village of Mvezo in the Eastern part of South Africa on the 18th of July 1918. He was the son of a prominent Thembu chief, Henry Mandela and mother Noqaphi Nosekeni.

Rolihlahla was the name given to him by his father, a Xhosa name, when roughly translated means “Trouble-maker”. The name Nelson was given to him by a white missionary , who was his teacher whilst he attended elementary school.

Mandela was the first of his family and one of very few black youths to matriculate from high school. After his matriculation, he went to the University of Fort-Hare in the Eastern Cape town Alice, the only university at the time which allowed black citizens (Black, Coloured and Indian) access to tertiary education. He did not attain his tertiary qualification at Fort Hare. Due to a dispute with the institution’s governing body based on the way student representatives are elected, Mandela left the university and decided to head to Johannesburg. He enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) for a BA degree in Law.

Mandela started his journey with the ANC (African National Congress) in 1944, where he joined a group of young, black intellectuals , and founded the ANCYL (African National Congress Youth League). married his first wife, Evelyn Mase on the 15th of July 1944. Evelyn was the cousin of his very close friend and fellow Apartheid activist veteran, Walter Sisulu.

In 1948, The Nationalist Party was elected as the ruling political government of South Africa, and as the ruling party, the NP laid down the foundations for the implementation of racial segregation known as “ Apartheid”, which literally translates into “Apartness”.

The ANC was extremely active in resisting the new laws of the Apartheid government, and mostly showed their defiance with non-violent protests. Nelson Mandel climbed the ranks of the ANC, and by 1952 was the national deputy president of the Party.

The ANC leaders came to notice how ineffective these non-violent protests were becoming. Every time the party organised mass demonstrations of peaceful resistance, the government and police forces would react with an unprecedented amount of violence and force. It was due to this that the ANCYL formed their armed military wing, “Umkhonto we Sizwe”, translating to “Spear of the Nation” in 1961.

Nelson Mandela became a fugitive and went into hiding from the South African Government. He was eventually captured by police during a raid of the Farm “Liliesleaf” where he was in hiding. The police also managed to capture senior ANC members, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg to name a few.

He went on trial in undoubtedly the biggest trial in the history of South Africa, known as the “Rivonia Trial”. Him and his ANC counterparts were all being charged with; conspiracy to overturn the government by revolution, assisting the invasion of South Africa with foreign troops and sabotage. Mandela and his co-accused were all under the impression that they all would be executed. When sentencing was handed over on the 12th of June 1964, all accused were sentenced to life imprisonment at Robben Island prison.

On the 31st of March 1982, Mandela and a few other political prisoners where transferred to Pollsmoor Prison. After getting treated for Tuberculosis in 1988 for 12 weeks, he was then transferred to a private residential house on the Victor Vester Prison premises.

In 1990, the newly elected president F.W De Klerk released Nelson Mandela from jail after 27 years of imprisonment. He also unbanned all political parties that were banned previously, PAC (African Congress) and ARM (African Resistance Movement) to name a few.

During the years of 1990-1993, Mandela as president of the ANC lead numerous negotiations on behalf of the oppressed, black population of South Africa for equal and fair rights and opportunities for all South African Citizens.

He did extensive travelling around the world, appealing to many western, developed countries to lift the sanctions they had imposed on South Africa due to the Apartheid regime.

In 1993 a date was set for the first democratic elections in South Africa, which were to take place on the 27th-29th of April 1994. In May 1994, it was announced that the ANC had one the national elections with a 62% majority, and on the 9th of May 1994, Nelson Mandela was announced the president of the Republic of South Africa.

When it comes to individuals who have had such a monumental influence on the shaping of history, are these people simply pre-determined by destiny; or is it a case of someone who just happens to find themselves in a certain set of circumstances that happen to change the course of history coincidentally.

The theory that seems to make the most logical rationale is; an individual can impact history by how they react to the specific circumstances they are faced with.

Apartheid was the circumstance, yet if anyone, other than Nelson Mandela was the instrumental figure of the eradication of the Apartheid regime, the outcome would have been very different.

Nelson Mandela changed the course of history by playing a vital role in the abolishment of racial segregation in South Africa. He changed the course of history by the decisions he made, when faced with the difficult and unjust circumstances of the oppressive regime.

He was committed to the vision of the ANC and his own for a country where each citizen is entitled to fair and equal treatment, and all are entitled to have an equal share in the benefits and resources of the country. This commitment is clearly evident in the speech he delivered in court, during the famous Rivonia Trial on the 20th of April 1964.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

His endurance and his unwavering spirit is what brought about the best possible outcome for the oppressed people of South Africa. There were any a time where to negotiate a political, social and economic freedom for all those who were oppressed Apartheid government.