Mandela in Prison

Nelson Mandela: The Father of South Africa (Part 2)


Continued from Part 1 


The ANC Goes Violent

Mandela and his firm launched a campaign to fight against any policy that discriminated against blacks in South Africa. One popular incident law which he agitated against was a law which mandated all nonwhites to carry pass books or reference books around government restricted areas.

Violence during Aparthied Initially the ANC as well as other anti-apartheid unions emulated the practice of non-violence as espoused by Mahatma Gandhi. But with laws being churned out daily which discriminated against them their stand began to change.

In 1960, unarmed black South Africans were massacred by the police which placed the regime in bad light across the globe.

Furthermore, an attempt by the apartheid government to forcefully relocate all blacks from Sophiatown suburb of Johannesburg changed Mandela’s view on non-violence. He traveled to Algeria for training in acts of sabotage and guerrilla warfare.

In 1961, Mandela, Sisulu and Slovo co-founded the group known as the spear of the nation (Umkhonto we Sizwe), abbreviated as MK with the objective to use violence against the government. Sabotage was chosen so as to exert pressure on them and also to reduce casualties to a minimum. Power stations, military installations and telephone lines were marked as targets. On December 16, 1961 the MK’s stroke with 57 bombings followed by further attacks on New Year’s Eve.

The group responsible for this was soon identified by the regime and Mandela became a wanted man, forcing him to go into hiding.

Mandela is Arrested

On August 5, 1962, Mandela was arrested on his return to South Africa from Algeria for acts of sabotage. He was also charged with inciting workers strike and leaving the country without permission and subsequently sentenced to 5 years imprisonment.

While in prison, the police authorities raided a farm suspected to be the hideout for the Umkhhonto we Sizwe. There documents of the group’s activities were found, with large a quantity of arms and ammunition.

Mandela together with nine of his companions were charged to court again on these new charges and tried for Sabotage, treason and violent conspiracy.

They admitted involvement in sabotage but denied any initiative to go into guerrilla warfare with the government.

Mandela’s defense from the dock, defending his right to liberty and defiance to tyranny garnered international recognition. His three-hour speech “I Am prepared to Die” was widely reported around the globe despite an attempt by the government to censor it.

The United Nations, World Peace Council and many other bodies as well as international figures called his release

On June 12, 1964, Mandela and two of his co-accused were sentenced to life imprisonment, though the persecuting team had called for death sentence.

Mandela at Robben Island: 1964-1988

Mandela in PrisonHe spent 18 years at the Robben Island prison, with a straw mat as his bed. Together with other inmates they spent their days breaking rocks into gravel, he was later reassigned to work in a lime quarry where his eyesight was permanently damaged due to glare from the lime.

Despite his confinement he continued his LLB degree which he was pursuing through correspondence from the University of London.

He is Moved to Pollsmoor prison: 1982-1988

In April 1982 he was transferred to Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town; the authorities believed his influence would rub off on younger South African activist also serving jail terms. He spent his time in Pollsmoor reading and corresponding widely with his contacts home and abroad.

Things were however not going on well with the apartheid regime as economic stagnation set in due to escalating violence in South Africa.

The apartheid regime was under pressure from international organizations, public figures and even multinational banks-the economy was suffering for investment had stopped coming into South Africa-to release Mandela.

The government offered him freedom in 1976 based on conditional offers which he out rightly refused to accept. The condition required him to accept residence in the newly independent status of the Transkei Bantustan.

The government also tried to negotiate with him asking him to unconditionally reject violence as a political weapon. His response through his daughter was “what freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people (ANC) remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”

His incarceration exposed the South African government to condemnation from the International community and organizations. On the other hand support for Mandela increased tremendously both home and abroad.

Mandela at Victor Verster Prison and Release: 1988-1990

He was moved once again to Victor Verster Prison in December 1988, where he enjoyed relative comfort with a personal cook and warder assigned to him. He finished his LLB degree here and was also allowed to receive visitors.

Mandela is Released from PrisonIn 1989, Botha suffered a stroke and was replaced by F.W. de klerk who saw the apartheid regime as unstable and released some ANC prisoners. He legalized all banned political parties and unconditionally released Mandela on February 11, 1990.

The event of his release was broadcast around the world. He however still maintained in a speech he gave, shortly after his release that he was committed to peace and reconciliation with the apartheid regime and white minority but insisted that armed struggle will continue as a defensive action against the violence of apartheid.

End of Apartheid in South Africa

After his release from prison, he was elected president of the ANC, replacing Oliver Tambo. Meanwhile Winnie was under trial for kidnapping and assault, by June 1991, she was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison, but was reduced to two years after an appeal. On April 13, 1992, Mandela announced his separation form her.

Due to Mandela and de Klerk’s effort at resolving the crisis in South Africa, they were jointly awarded the Nobel peace Prize in Norway in July 1993.

At the elections that held on April 27, 1994, the ANC represented by Mandela won 63% of the votes, thus making Mandela the first black president of South Africa. De klerk and Thabo Mbeki were given the position of deputy presidents in accordance with an earlier agreed agreement. Despite his struggles with the previous apartheid regime Mandela strived to reconcile the nation which he saw as his primary task as president, appointing opposition members into his cabinet. He also made it clear to the white populace that they were protected and would be well represented.


In February 1998, he consummated his relationship with Graca Machel, wife of the former president of Mozambique. He married her on his 80th birthday. They had courted for a while after his divorce from Winnie; She was 27 years his junior.

Though the constitution allowed two terms he served just one term and afterwards retired from politics.

Mandela died on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95, from a prolonged respiratory infection at his home in Houghton. Ten days of national mourning and prayers was declared in his honor.

His burial was widely aired by the media with almost 90 foreign countries represented at his burial. He is today considered as ‘the father of the nation’ in South Africa.


Do you find his story inspiring and noteworthy if you do leave a comment below detailing what you find inspiring about the life of Nelson Mandela?

Do you see yourself as a forgiving person who would let go grievances you have against someone for the sake of peace?

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