Nelson MandelaExcuse me sir, may I see your pass? These words mean very little to most Americans; however these words struck fear in the hearts of black South Africans during the times of apartheid. While apartheid was being practiced, blacks were restricted in the jobs they could hold, facilities they could use, as well as the places they could be, and all blacks had to carry passes for identification purposes. If the passes were not in order, the carrier was subject to arrest. Through these terrifying times, one man rose above all the rest in the effort to combat this terrible practice of apartheid. This man was Nelson Mandela; a man who was so dedicated to the overthrow of apartheid that he was willing to spend twenty-seven years of his live in prison for the cause. Mandela’s rise to the South African presidency, after his release is well documented, but in order to truly understand Mandela, one must examine his life before his prison term, and rise to the presidency. When analyzing Mandela’s life from this point of view, several questions come to the forefront. First of all, what was the extent of the apartheid laws which Mandela and the people of South Africa were facing? Secondly, what tactics did Mandela use to combat this practice of apartheid? Thirdly, what factors played a motivating force in the life of Mandela? And finally, what impact does the life of Nelson Mandela have on the rest of the world? After carefully answering each of these questions, one can easily see that Nelson Mandela was a man shaped by apartheid into a staunch nationalist that served as an example for his people and the world.Order now
In understanding Mandela as a nationalist, one must first have an idea of the brutal laws which he faced and dedicated his life to overthrowing. Apartheid was the policy being used to repress the blacks at the time of Mandela. Encyclopedia of Britannica describes apartheid as, policy that governed relations between South Africa’s white minority and nonwhite majority and sanctioned racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against nonwhites (Britannica web). It is important to note that racial discrimination existed in South Africa since Europeans first came there, however the policy of apartheid was not instituted until after the victory of the National Party in the election of 1948 (Britannica web). Once the National Party gained power, they began their movement towards apartheid in 1950 with the Population Registration Act (Britannica web). With the passing of the act, all South Africans were forced to classify themselves into one of three racial groups: Bantu (black South Africans), Coloured (of mixed dissent), and white (Britannica web). A fourth group to include Asian inhabitants was a later addition to the act (Britannica web). This demeaning Population Registration Act was the foundation for all of the brutal apartheid laws that were yet to come from the National Party.
Once the National Party had all South Africans placed into categories based on their race, they preceded to enact one policy that was particularly devastating to blacks. The name of this policy was the Group Areas Act of 1950. Before discussing the impact of this act, it is important to understand the extent of the majority the blacks had over the whites. Black residents numbered 31.5 million people, Colorued were 3.3 million, Asian 1.2 million, and the whites had only 5.4 million inhabitants (Geocities web). Now the purpose of the Group Areas Act was to prevent members of certain races from having land, houses, or businesses in particular areas of the country (Britannica web). As a result of this act, the small minority of white citizens was allotted over 80% of South Africa’s land (Britannica web). By analyzing the numbers presented, it is not difficult to see how this act had a devastating effect on black South Africans. Blacks represent approximately 75% of the population, yet are only able to use less than 20% of the land. As one could imagine, it would be hard for anyone to prosper under those conditions.
Besides the Population Registration Act, and the Group Areas Act many other acts were passed to ensure the segregation between blacks and whites. Two acts in particular demonstrate that the ideas of the National Party were already in practice before they took power. These acts, very similar to the Group Areas Act of 1950, were the Natives Land Acts of 1913 and 1936 (Geocities web). The result of these acts was the large black majority being restricted to only 13% of the land in South Africa (Geocities web). To ensure that blacks would not move into white area, the government instituted pass laws (Britannica web). These laws forced blacks to carry documentation at all times, and these documents would show the authorities in which areas these people could travel (Britannica web). From these laws, one can easily see how the white government of South Africa used any means at their disposal to demean and keep blacks at an economic disadvantage. With this understanding, one can imagine how these policies could spawn the nationalist ideals of Nelson Mandela.
After gaining an understanding of the laws Mandela was in opposition to, one must next look at the tactics he used to combat apartheid in order to truly understand him as a nationalist. The first time Mandela delved into anything that could be considered nationalist was when he joined the ANC (African National Congress web). The ANC was established in 1912 as a non-violent organization to combat the repression of black South Africans (Mandela xi). In 1944 Mandela joined the Youth League of the ANC, and the nationalist implications of the maneuver will be discussed later in the paper (Mandela xi). As far as ideology is concerned the ANC believed in using non-violent civil disobedience, which consisted of strikes and protests, and avoided taking lives at all costs (Mandela xi). According to one source the ANC saw, passive resistance was the only way to combat the heavily armed, violent state (Benson 43). By his involvement in these organizations one can easily see the efforts of a beginning nationalist in Mandela.
By 1952 Mandela’s respect as a nationalist led to him being named the leader of the ANC’s Defiance Campaign (xi). The Defiance Campaign stressed the type of non-violent resistance, which was the foundation of the ANC. Although the movement was passive, the masses were involved, and Mandela alludes in his autobiography when he writes, Doctors, factory workers, lawyers, teachers, students, ministers, defied the law and went to jail (115). The role of the masses in this nationalist movement headed by Mandela was also obvious in the fact that 8,500 people went to jail during this campaign (115). The fact that Mandela led this grass roots campaign to gain more freedom for his people, serves as an excellent example of Mandela’s nationalist tactics.
After the Defiance Campaign, and incident occurred on March 21, 1960 that would shape many of the nationalist tactics Mandela would use up until the time he was sent to prison. On this day, a group of blacks were peacefully protesting anti-pass laws in a region known as Sharpeville (Mandela xii). In response to the demonstration, South African officials fired on the protestors, and, in fact, killing many of the people (xii). The incident was labeled the Sharpeville Massacre, and because of it the National party called for a state of emergency, in which the ANC was banned (xii). With the banning of the ANC Mandela’s and the other members of the ANC were forced to take their efforts underground (xii). The banning of the ANC, led to new nationalist philosophies within the group. These new philosophies are evident in a quote from Mandela, when he says, When some of us discussed this in May and June of 1961, it could not be denied that our policy to achieve a non-racial State by non-violence had achieved nothing (Mandela 22). This quote shows that Mandela and fellow members of the ANC new something new needed to be done within the ANC. What Mandela and other nationalist leaders decided to do was to form a military faction of the ANC called the Umkanto Sizwe (24). Mandela lets readers know this was the last option when he writes, We did so not because we desired such a course, but solely because the government had left us with no other choice (24). The nationalist members of the Umkanto decided on sabotage, over guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and all out revolution, as a means to obtain their goals (26). Mandela makes readers aware of why they chose sabotage when he writes, Sabotage did not involve the loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations (26). The main targets of this sabotage were power plants, infrastructure, government buildings, as well as symbols of apartheid (26-27). The efforts of the Umkanto were designed to have a crippling effect on both the government and the economy, and in doing so change the attitudes of South African voters (27). Mandela was the leader of this group until he was arrested in Natal on August 5, 1962, and sentenced to life in jail (27). By leading and partaking in these efforts to rebel against a repressive government, Mandela once again shows himself as a nationalist.
After looking at the brutal effect apartheid had on Mandela and the people of South Africa, as well as the tactics he used to fight this practice, one must delve deeper into Mandela’s life to better understand what shaped his nationalistic ideas. In his own autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela says, I cannot pinpoint a moment when I became politicized, when I knew that I would spend my life in the liberation struggle (83). Mandela goes on to discuss how frustrating it was that he could only hold certain jobs, live in certain areas, ride on certain trains, etc. (83). Although Mandela says that his attitude of nationalistic political activism was the result of coming face to face every day with the apartheid laws that have already been mentioned, there are some specific motivations that can be seen as particularly influencing his nationalistic feelings.
The first major influence on Mandela, which must be discussed, is that of his profession. Because of the fact that Mandela was an attorney, he encountered apartheid in much greater volume than his fellow black South Africans (ANC web site). A quote from Mandela’s partner Oliver Tambo demonstrates how many cases he and Mandela encountered, To reach our desks each morning, Nelson and I ran the gauntlet of patient people overflowing from the chair in the waiting room into the corridors (ANC web site). Even Mandela’s practice was sanctioned through apartheid. Land segregation acts drove Mandela’s practice from the center of the city, where it was easy to reach black clients, to a rural area, which was difficult for blacks to reach (ANC web site). Dealing with this apartheid in such a great volume had an impact on Mandela, and frustrated him a great deal; however one needs to look at three other distinct events in his life which led to his becoming more of a nationalist than the average frustrated black African.
First, and perhaps the most influential of these three influences is that of a new division that was forming within the African National Congress. The leadership of the ANC had been using methods that had been for the most part ineffective. This old leadership would challenge apartheid by trying to work through the constitution, and petitioning the government that was in place (Mandela 84). A man named Anton Lembede led younger and more energetic members of the ANC, including Mandela (Mandela 84). After reading about what Mandela has to say about Lembede, it is easy to see how he had a profound impact on the nationalistic ideals held by Mandela. Regarding Lembede, Mandela says, Lembede’s views struck a chord in me. I, too, had been susceptible to paternalistic British colonialism and the appeal of being perceived by whites as cultured and progressive and civilized (85). Lembede’s view that struck a chord in Mandela was that all of these ideas of being accepted by whites were not of the right thinking. Mandela is very blunt about the feelings of Lembede and how he felt about them when he writes, Like Lembede, I came to see the antidote as militant African nationalism (85). In 1944 Lembede, Mandela, Tambo, and several other influential black South Africans formed the Youth League of the ANC (Mandela 87). This group was based on principles very similar to those held by Lembede. The main theme held by the ANCYL was that, We believe that the national liberation of Africans will be achieved by Africans themselves?. The Congress Youth League must be the brain-trust and power-station of the spirit of African nationalism (Mandela 87). With this as their mission statement, the ANCYL was more of a grassroots organization focused on promoting the participation of the masses for the first time. The group stressed the idea of Africa being a black man’s continent, and that the black South Africans needed to take what was rightfully theirs (Mandela 84-85). After looking at these ideals stressed by Lembede and the ANCYL one can easily see where Mandela got his nationalistic ideals of pride in being African, the need for involvement of the African masses in their own liberation, and the idea that Africa is for black people and belongs to black people.
After looking at the influence Lembede and the ANCYL had on Mandela, the next major influence on Mandela is a bit of a surprising one. In 1946 the South African government passed the Asiatic Land Tenure Act (Mandela 90). This act placed many restrictions on Indians, including where they could live and trade, as well as their rights to attain property (Mandela 90). When referring to the impact that the act had on him, Mandela says, That same year (1946), another event (Asiatic Land Tenure Act) forced me to recast my whole approach to political work (90). After hearing the effect this event had on Mandela, one must wonder why this event had such a profound impact on Mandela’s thinking. After all, he was an African nationalist, why did he pay so much attention to something that was happening to the Indians? The answer to this question lies in the methods used by the Indians in responding to the act. In response to the act, the two major Indian organizations, The Transvaal Indian Congress and the Natal Indian Congress began a concentrated two-year effort against the repression (90). In his book Mandela speaks of how the masses were involved, and how housewives, doctors, lawyers, craftspeople, etc. gave up their entire life for two years to offer their resistance (90). It now becomes obvious to see how Mandela was inspired by this event, and he alludes to this in his book as well. Mandela says, The Indian campaign became a model for the type of protest that we in the Youth League were calling for. It instilled a spirit of defiance and radicalism among the people, broke the fear of prison, and boosted the popularity and influence of the NIC and TIC (90-91). In other words, it was now seen what type of methods of resistance must replace the old ways of the ANC, people must be more dedicated and more willing to suffer and sacrifice. Simple speeches were not enough anymore (91). By analyzing the events that ensued after the passing of the Asiatic Land Tenure Act, one can easily see how it shaped the political mindset of Nelson Mandela.
Besides the impact of Lembede and the Asiatic Land Tenure Act, the third major event that formed Mandela as a political activist and a nationalist was the election of 1948. This election pitted the United Party, which was in power at the time, against the National Party (Mandela 96). Although the United Party did not treat the blacks particularly well, they were rather mild compared to the National Party (96-97). The platform of the National Party was the idea, and programs of apartheid, which was discussed earlier in the paper. The main ideology held by the Nationalist Party was that blacks were inferior to whites, and that the white man should always have control over blacks (97). Eventually, the Nationalist Party, led by Dr. Daniel Malan, won the election of 1948, and this came as a great shock to the entire country (97). One would expect the black South Africans to be devastated by this outcome; however they were not. After hearing news of the election, Mandela’s partner Oliver Tambo said, I like this. Now we will know exactly who our enemies are and where we stand (Mandela 97). Put differently, the new threat from the state allowed for the ANC to become more united on the ideal that some drastic new actions had to be taken (99). So by looking at the implications of the results of the election of 1948, we can see how it led to further understanding that more nationalist/activist actions had to be taken by Mandela and the ANC.
Now that the laws Mandela faced, tactics he used, and his nationalist influences have been discussed, one must now analyze what kind of an impact Nelson Mandela had on his people and the world. Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years of his life in prison. After Mandela was released, the people of South Africa let him know what kind of impact he had on them in a rally on February 11, 1990 (PolyGram Video). The masses expressed what Mandela had meant to them in a song entitled, Father of our Nation (PolyGram Video). Some of the lyrics of the song are, You shaped our destiny, for many years we waited for you. Oh Mandela, son of Africa, Father of our freedom, Spirit of our Love (PolyGram Video). Hearing this quote, one can see the extreme gratitude the people of South Africa felt towards Nelson Mandela. Black South Africans understand that it was Mandela and his nationalist yet peaceful agendas that achieved freedom for them. Finally the song shows how dedicated the people were to Mandela, and how they did not forget about him while he was imprisoned.
Mandela was conditioned from a young age to be a figure of great impact to his people. Even as a child, Mandela was groomed by the Paramount Chief of his tribe to eventually hold a position of leadership (ANC web). From his upbringing, Mandela was taught a strict work ethic, and learned the value of dedication (ANC web). Obviously, this dedication served Mandela well in his attempt to impact the lives of his people. Mandela makes his audience aware of his dedication to the freedom struggle when he says, You can see that there is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desire (ANC web). This quote comes from Mandela’s address to the ANC Transvaal Congress in 1953, and shows the dedication he was willing to put forth to the freedom struggle (ANC web). It was because of this dedication that Mandela was able to unite the masses in a fight for freedom, and eventually bring apartheid and the government of the National Party to an end. By bringing about the end of apartheid, Mandela’s nationalist tactics have had a profound impact on the lives of his fellow Africans, and blacks can now have an opportunity to succeed and prosper in South Africa.
To conclude this paper, I would like to analyze the impact Mandela, as a nationalist, had on people around the world. To do so, I will talk about what I learned from Nelson Mandela while doing my research. While researching Mandela, I came across a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the quote said, I will stand here for humanity? I think this quote is an excellent explanation of how I now see Mandela. Mandela’s efforts to overturn apartheid can really be admired by all of humanity, not just because he was dedicated to overthrow an evil system, but because of the manner in which he did so. One important idea to me was the fact that Mandela was against bigotry of any kind, and he was not just concerned about his own people. One quote which I found to be very moving explains Mandela’s effort to end racism, and Mandela’s quote says, I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunity (Mandela 5). This dedication to democracy, and loving your fellow man is something that I believe should be applied throughout the world. I also am able to really admire Mandela for the love he expressed to those who were repressing him, as well as the fact that he combated violence with non-violence. The fact that Mandela went about his nationalist efforts in way that would do the least to damage race relations is very admirable. The world has recognized Mandela’s work in this area as well by rewarding him with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 (Britannica web). None of Mandela’s goals would have been accomplished if it were not for Mandela’s aforementioned dedication, as well as his willingness to sacrifice. These too are qualities for which Mandela must be greatly admired. For those throughout the world fighting repression, Mandela can serve as an example of the action necessary to triumph in struggle. Because of his democratic attitude, and determination, I believe that Mandela truly does stand here on earth for humanity, as an example of what we should all strive for.
Benson, Mary. Nelson Mandela: The Man and the Movement. WW Norton ;
Company; New York: 1986.
Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom. Little Brown and Co.; New York: 1994.
One Nation, One Country. Phelps-Stokes Institute for African, African American, and
Indian Affairs; New York: 1998 (Mandela quotes xi-5).
Video: MANDELA Son of Africa, Father of a Nation PolyGram Video New York: