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Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid icon and father of modern South Africa, dies

By Faith Karimi CNN | 12/5/2013, 5:12 p.m.
Nelson Mandela, the revered statesman who emerged from prison after 27 years to lead South Africa out of decades of ...
Nelson Mandela

Meanwhile, the fight for equality got bloodier.

Four years after his treason charges, police shot 69 unarmed black protesters in Sharpeville township as they demonstrated outside a station. The Sharpeville Massacre was condemned worldwide, and it spurred Mandela to take a more militant tone in the fight against apartheid.

The South African government outlawed the ANC after the massacre, and an angry Mandela went underground to form a new military wing of the organization.

"There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and nonviolence against a government whose reply is only savage attacks on an unarmed and defenseless people," Mandela said during his time on the run.

During that period, he left South Africa and secretly traveled under a fake name. The press nicknamed him "the Black Pimpernel" because of his police evasion tactics.

Militant resistance

The African National Congress heeded calls for stronger action against the apartheid regime, and Mandela helped launch an armed wing to attack government symbols, including post offices and offices.

The armed struggle was a defense mechanism against government violence, he said.

"My people, Africans, are turning to deliberate acts of violence and of force against the government, in order to persuade the government, in the only language which this government shows by its own behavior that it understands," Mandela said during a hearing in 1962.

"If there is no dawning of sanity on the part of the government -- ultimately, the dispute between the government and my people will finish up by being settled in violence and by force. "

The campaign of violence against the state resulted in civilian casualties.

Long imprisonment

In 1962, Mandela secretly received military training in Morocco and Ethiopia. When he returned home later that year, he was arrested and charged with illegal exit of the country and incitement to strike.

Mandela represented himself at the trial and was briefly imprisoned before being returned to court. In 1964, after the famous Rivonia trial, he was sentenced to life in prison for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.

At the trial, instead of testifying, he opted to give a speech that was more than four hours long, and ended with a defiant statement.

"I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination," he said. "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

His next stop was the Robben Island prison, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in detention. He described his early days there as harsh.

"There was a lot of physical abuse, and many of my colleagues went through that humiliation," he said.

One of those colleagues was Khehla Shubane, 57, who was imprisoned in Robben Island during Mandela's last years there. Though they were in different sections of the prison, he said, Mandela was a towering figure.