Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918-2013), an anti-apartheid leader, was the first president of a free, democratic South Africa.
- Political party: African National Congress (ANC), one of several anti-apartheid parties. It was for multiracial, socialist democracy.
- Race: Black
- Ethnicity: Xhosa
- Education: British
- Religion: Methodist
- American terrorist watch list: 1980s to 2008
- Heroes: Joe Louis, Samora Machel
- 1944-1955: Evelyn Mase (pictured), cousin of Walter Sisulu
- 1958-1996: Winnie Mandela
- 1998-2013: Graça Machel, widow of Samora Machel
- 1950s: an ANC leader, practises nonviolence
- 1962-1990: Political prisoner, mainly on Robben Island
- 1993: Nobel Peace Prize
- 1994-1999: President of South Africa
- 2013-: sanitized icon
- Best quote: “Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.”
Apartheid: Like Jim Crow in America, it kept the races apart with Whites on top and Blacks at the bottom. Asians and Coloureds (mixed-race) were in between. Blacks could not vote, were shut out of many fields of work, were given terrible educations (sometimes with no English or even mathematics!), had to carry passbooks to move about the country, etc. Whites had taken most of the good land, forcing Blacks into ghettos and so-called homelands (reservations), often far from work.
In the 1950s the ANC fought this in the courts and through nonviolent protest. Mandela was one of the ANC leaders.
Nonviolence did little good. The government blocked peaceful means of protest, limited Black rights yet further and, in time, carried out a violent crackdown. The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 made news round the world, making apartheid infamous.
Mandela and the ANC answered violence with violence – not with massacres of White people, but sabotage against property. That did not work either. Mandela was moving towards guerrilla warfare when he and others were thrown in prison for life for treason.
While breaking rocks in prison day after day he did not lose hope. On most days he knew the country would change, that one day he would walk out of prison.
In the 1980s the ANC used “Free Nelson Mandela” as a rallying cry, not only to keep up spirits at home but to give supporters abroad something morally clear-cut to push for. The danger was that it built Mandela into something of a political messiah – but it wound up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Because of increasing political unrest at home and isolation abroad South Africa’s White rulers were forced to talk to him. The country was falling apart – and he was now the only one with the moral authority to save it.
By 1988, even though he was behind bars, he now had the power to reshape the country by cutting a deal with White leaders: end apartheid and, in exchange, Whites would get to keep most of their wealth, as ill-gotten as it was. Without him South Africa could have easily sunk into an endless civil war where Whites lost everything.
Once president he helped to heal the divisions of the country through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. To show forgiveness he wore the Springbok gold-and-green rugby jersey, long hated by Blacks as a symbol of White supremacy.