Nelson Mandela: It always seems impossible until it’s done. (#2)




Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in Transkei, South Africa (Cold War Museum, 2014), and was given the name “Nelson” by his teacher. He changed the history of South Africa and brought democracy to his nation. After the death of his father, he was placed under the care of a wealthy relative, and was the first person to attend school in his family. He began at the College of Fort Hare in 1938, where he generated his political interest. Soon he was expelled for being involved with the Student Representative Council and their boycott against university policies. He ran away from home to avoid an arranged marriage. In 1942, he graduated from the University of Witwatersrand with a degree in law (Nelson Childhood, 2014).

The National Party gained power in South Africa and developed a system called apartheid to limit the rights of the blacks until the 1990s. Black people were forced to use separate public facilities and lived in separate areas from the whites. Years later, the Great Depression and World War II brought increasing economic woes to South Africa, which convinced the government to strengthen its policies of racial segregation. They even set their goals to separate the black people from each other, and to divide them along tribe lines to decrease their political power. The government banned marriages between the whites and blacks, limited contact between the races, and the activity of non-white people for participating in national government. As time went by, apartheid became worse, and new laws were passed which told the black people where to live and work. Nelson Mandela studied to become a lawyer to protect the blacks, and working as a lawyer strengthened his feelings against apartheid.

Apartheid was a political and social system in South Africa that was put in place by the white National Party in 1948. In class we learned about racism in USA. We talked about Jim Crow laws, which enforce racial segregation in the Southern United States. Practicing blockbusting and redlining to directly or indirectly deny services to residents based on their race. Similarly, in the apartheid system the people of South Africa were divided based on race and was forced to live apart from each other. It promoted an unequal distribution of the financial, natural, and technical and education resources in South Africa. Redlining and blockbusting laws were passed that forced physical separation between races by creating different residential areas for different races. Black codes made it a criminal offence for a black person to perform any skilled work in urban areas except in sections designated for black occupation. Prohibited strike action by Blacks. Denied black people the option of appealing to the courts against forced removals. Put an end to black students attending white universities. Laws similar to Jim Crow were passed that forced segregation in all public amenities, public building, and public transport with the aim of eliminating contact between whites and other races. “Europeans Only” and “Non-Europeans Only” signs were put up. Interracial marriage was prohibited.

To combat the apartheid system, Mandela joined African National Congress, a national political party against racism in 1944 and began leading protests and boycotts against these laws. On December 5, 1956, along with other 155 members of the campaign, Mandela was arrested and charged with treason against the government. At that moment, the young South Africans still fought against apartheid. Later, they were all acquitted, and Nelson Mandela became the National President of the ANC youth League. Around the same time, United States was in midst of the Civil Rights Movement. There were many nonviolent protests and civil disobedience to bring about change i.e. Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Sit-Ins, Black Nationalist and separatist movement.

Nelson Mandela was arrested again in 1962 for defying the government and sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island. The media coverage of the trial brought awareness to the whole world about the apartheid system. The time that he was imprisoned gave him plenty of time to write about the unjust apartheid system and racism. During his time in prison, he formed the Spear of the Nation, a new branch of the ANC, which attempted to overthrow the apartheid government. A ‘Free Mandela’ campaign was developed in 1982 so Nelson Mandela moved to a prison in Cape Town. Although the government once offered to release him, he refused because he knew it would concede that he had gaven up the action of fighting against apartheid. This is a form of resistance towards unjust racism and discrimination. It was not until 1990 that changes come to South Africa.

After over 28 years of imprisonment, Nelson Mandela was finally released on February 11, 1990. The first democratic election was held in South Africa on April 27, 1994. People of all races were able to vote and a number of political parties participated. The African National Congress won most of the vote, so the government of National Unity was formed, and Nelson Mandela became the first black African president in South Africa on May 5, 1994. In 1993, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his struggle to ending the apartheid system (Yukihiro, 2011). Once Nelson Mandela became the president of South Africa, signs of apartheid were completely destroyed and never seen again (Yukihiro, 2011). After apartheid was abolished, he dedicated himself to ending global poverty, and helped to resolve wars and conflicts within the whole of Africa. He was focused on rebuilding his country, and tried his best to fix South Africa’s problems and make it become a country based on democracy, freedom and equality

Nelson Mandela understood the meaning of equality. He changed the history of South Africa and brought democracy to his nation. He used his knowledge and beliefs to fight for equality and justice, not only for South Africa, but for the whole world. Nelson Mandela passed away on December 5, 2013, but he will forever be remembered as a hero in Africa, and around the world. He is a true role model; despite being imprisoned for 30 years, he acted conciliatory towards those who imprisoned him and the white leadership, allowing a peaceful transition to democratic rule. It’s easy to feel despair with everything that’s happening around the world now. We are constantly bombarded with awful new about police violence, gun violence, terrorist attacks and Islamophobia. Nelson Mandela reminds us that with some courage and collective effervescence, we can fight any crimes against humanity and prevail.

-Manila Shrestha


Yukihiro, C., 2011. The End of Apartheid – Democracy in South Africa. [online] Available at: <;

Nelson Mandela Childhood | Nelson Childhood. 2014. [online] Available at:<;

Cold War Museum. 2014. [online] Available at:<;

Apartheid – Facts & Summary – 2014. [online] Available at: <;

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