By  - Dr. Khalid Sohail              


February 11, 1990 was a historic day not only for Nelson Mandela but also for South Africa and the whole world. That was the day when Mandela, who was charged by South African Government to be a terrorist, leading an armed movement to overthrow government and given life imprisonment, was discharged after 27 years. During his nearly 10,000 days of imprisonment, the world opinion had changed and Mandela was perceived as the prophet of peace and justice. On that day thousands of people from all races, cultures, religions, classes and walks of life were waiting outside the prison to receive him and millions of people all around the world were watching that historic moment on television. The whole experience was so surrealistic that when Mandela was asked the next day how did he feel when he left the prison he said, ‘I must confess that I am unable to describe my emotions. I was completely overwhelmed by the enthusiasm. It is something I did not expect. I would be merely rationalizing if I told you that I am able to describe my own feelings. It was breathtaking. That’s all I can say.” (Ref 1 p 214)

          While I was watching the news of television I was wondering:

‘Is Mandela a violent man or a peace loving person?’

‘Why did Government of South Africa keep him in jail for quarter of a century?’

‘ On what grounds did the South African court judge him?

‘What inspired Mandela to create a militant organization?

‘Can someone be a symbol of violence and a prophet of peace at the same time?”

To answer these questions I studied his autobiography that he had started writing while still in prison and completed after he received his Nobel Peace prize and the speeches he delivered before he went to jail and after he came out. Carefully reading all such documents threw some light on those questions. By studying the evolution of his personality, philosophy and politics I became aware that there were two traditions that merged together to give birth to Mandela’s ideology of African Nationalism. They were

A, African tribal heritage

Mandela was introduced to African tradition by his father who was a well-respected Chief of his tribe. Mandela’s first few years of life were spent in the traditional tribal environment. Later on when Mandela studied African history be came to know about the struggles of his fore-fathers and sacrifices they had been giving for generations for their freedom. Mandela also met a number of poets, intellectuals and political activists who were proud of their African heritage. Mandela was groomed by his elders to become a Chief of his tribe and serve his people. Mandela believed that native African culture was democratic, classless and secular. He described the atmosphere of the meetings conducted by the Chiefs in these words, ‘Everyone who wanted to speak did so. It was democracy in its purest form…The foundation of self-government was that all men were free to voice their opinions and equal in their value as citizens…” (Ref 2 p 22)

Gradually Mandela developed Black consciousness and his interaction with Black Chiefs heightened his profound awareness of the oppression of Blacks by Whites.  One such Chief was Chief Joyi.

‘ Chief Joyi said that African people lived in relative peace until the coming of the abelungu, the white people, who arrived from across the sea with fire-breathing weapons. Once, he said, the Thembu, the Mpondo, the Xhosa, and the Zulu were all children of one father, and lived as brothers. The white man shattered the abantu , the fellowship, of the various tribes”. (Ref 2 p 23)

One of the significant events in Mandela’s life was meeting a Xhosa poet during his student days when he came to meet the students and share his philosophy and poetry.

The poet  Krune Mghavi inspired Mandela by touching his heart, mind and soul and made him seriously think about the conflict and clash between African and Western cultures. He said, ‘…what I am talking to you about is the brutal clash between what is indigenous and good, and what is foreign and bad. We cannot allow these foreigners who do not care for our culture to take over our nation. I predict that one day, the forces of African society will achieve a momentous victory over the interpoler. For too long, we have succumbed to the false gods of white man. But we will emerge and cast off these foreign notions.  (Ref 2 p 40)

After that encounter Mandela started thinking seriously about his African heritage and Black identity and a desire to be part of the struggle. As he got to know more and more suffering Blacks in South Africa he saw the difference between the haves and the have nots. He came to the profound realization that “It was not lack of ability that limited my people, but lack of opportunity.” (Ref 2 p 35)



B, Western democratic tradition

To become a lawyer Mandela received a Western styled education. He was quite impressed by English language, culture and especially their political system. Like many educated African men he wanted to follow the footsteps of Englishmen. He considered them symbols of the cultured race at a personal, social and political level. Mandela confessed that he was an ‘Anglophile’.

“The educated English-man was our model; what we aspired to be were ‘black Englishmen” as we were sometimes derisively called. We were taught---and believed---that the best ideas were English ideas, the best government was English government, and the best men were Englishmen.” (Ref 2 p 37)

Mandela, like many other Black men and women of his culture and generation, were conditioned to see Blacks as inferior to Whites. The first time Mandela saw a black pilot he missed a heart beat. He realized that he was so brainwashed that he could not believe a Black man could become such a respectable and successful person. Mandela gradually tried to synthesize his African traditions with Western contemporary practices. He liked African culture and Western politics. He was fascinated with the idea of democracy and having elections where all citizens were equal in the eyes of the law. Such a democratic system gradually became his ideal and he pursued it wholeheartedly. He started to dream of a multicultural, multiracial parliament and constitution for South Africa.

When Mandela was living, working and studying in Johannesberg, he met a number of political personalities who were quite involved in conscious raising and human rights movements. As Mandela had serious discussions with them he became aware of the injustices and discrimination his people were experiencing and inspired to join African National Congress, the ANC. He gradually chose to become a freedom fighter so that he could help the Black people to fulfill their dreams and aspirations.

He also met those leaders who warned him not to become a political leader as they believed “politics brings out the worst in men.” (Ref 2 p 73)

          After a lot of contemplation Mandela chose to enter the political arena, an arena in which he tied his future with the future of Blacks and his struggle with the struggle of Africans. He realized that all Blacks and Africans were in the same boat. They had to work together to be successful and free. He decided to play his role in the freedom struggle, knowing very well that such a struggle can cost him his family, his profession, his pride even his life. He, like other freedom fighters got ready to offer sacrifices, endure pain and face hardships.  

When I studied Mandela’s life story I realized that Mandela’s political struggle went through many phases.

 In the beginning when Mandela joined African National Congress, the ANC, he believed in peaceful methods to bring political change. He perceived himself as a freedom fighter but he was totally against any violent means. At that stage her believed in achieving peaceful ends by peaceful means. He knew that ANC party existing since 1912 had the reputation of ‘ a body of gentlemen with clean hands’. (Ref 1 p 2)

Within a short time Mandela became increasingly dissatisfied with ANC. He gave birth to Youth League and initiated a militant non-violent struggle as he was disappointed in the passive style of ANC leaders. He wanted to try Gandhi’s political strategies of non-violent non-cooperation. When Mandela expressed his views to ANC leaders he faced resistance as ANC always believed in constitutional and peaceful methods for change. They were not willing to break the law. They preferred negotiations over violent strikes, mediation over armed struggle. Finally Mandela convinced them to take a historic step.

          Finally Mandela convinced other members of ANC to adopt “Gandhian principles of nonviolence, or what the Mahatama called satyagraha…” (Ref 2 p 127) It was interesting that even those who agreed with the suggestion belonged to two groups: some wanted to adopt it on ethical grounds believing it was better than other methods of protest while others supported it not on principle but on the basis of tactics. Mandela belonged to the second group. He was quite pragmatic in his approach. He did not want to confuse political battle with moral, ethical, religious and spiritual issues like Gandhi did in India. Mandela followed Gandhi politically but not spiritually.

          So, in 1949 ANC approved Program Action suggested by Youth League and

“adopted the league’s Program of Action, which called for boycotts, strikes, stay-at-homes, passive resistance, protest demonstrations, and other forms of mass action. This was a radical change… along the lines of Gandhi’s nonviolent protests in India and the 1946 passive resistance campaign…” (Ref 2 p 114)

In spite of the adoption of militant suggestions there was a protest by some leaders of ANC including Dr. Xama who thought such a step was premature and “would give the government an excuse to crush the ANC” (Ref 2 p 114). He called Mandela and his young colleagues “naïve firebrands.” (Ref 2 p 114)

It is obvious that ANC had two groups of members: older generation was more conservative while the new generation was brave and bold and militant and was willing to take risks. Mandela arranged a stay home strike which was successful nation wide. When Mandela was challenged in the court he told the judge that the strike was peaceful as workers were asked to stay home and have the day of mourning for all those freedom fighters who had sacrificed their lives for the struggle movement. He told the court that workers were not asked to picket and strike so that they did not get in any violent confrontation with police and government.

In 1952 there was a new leadership and Chief Albert Luthuli became the President. He was an activist but not a violent leader. He believed in action but not violence.

Within a short time Mandela realized that militant nonviolence was not enough to shake the foundations of apartheid regime and he had to go a step forward and seriously consider embracing organized violence.

          As Mandela matured as a politician and freedom fighter he realized that he had the power to move masses. Mandela started making passionate speeches, playing with people’s emotions preparing them for revolutionary ideas and actions. After Mandela discovered the weapon of passionate emotions of people, he tried to use that weapon against his enemies. It was in a public meeting that he for the first time crossed a line and ignited the spark of violence. He confesses in these words. “ In those days, I was something of a rabble rousing speaker. I liked to incite an audience and I was doing so that evening.”(Ref 2 p 157) After Mandela made the mob angry he pointed at the police and told them that those were the enemies. The people present started looking at police and making hostile gestures. Police got nervous and exchanged hostile looks with Mandela. ‘I pointed to the police and said, “ There, there are our enemies!” The crowd again started cheering and made aggressive gestures in the direction of the police. The police looked nervous, and a number of them pointed back at me as if to say, “Mandela, we will get you for this.” I did not mind. In the heat of the moment I did not think of the consequences.” (Ref 2 p 157)

That day Mandela entered the cycle of violence with the police declaring them publicly as his enemies. Mandela confessed that in the heat of the moment he did not ‘think of the consequences’, he did not realize that he was playing with fire and he and his dear ones and followers could be easily burnt. He entered the cycle of violence, a cycle that escalated over the years and decades. Mandela had declared a war. Mandela had taken a step that Dr. Xama his predecessor and Chief Luthuli, his contemporary would have never taken. They knew that such a road leads to disaster, destruction and death.

Mandela reached a stage where his personal and political, ideological and family, philosophical and social lives overlapped and they started affecting each other. During that phase of his life,  Mandela also experienced a number of crises in his personal, professional and social lives that pushed him to say goodbye to legal and constitutional methods of protest. There were a number of experiences in the court as a lawyer and a number of encounters with the police that also pushed Mandela to lose faith in legal and constitutional ways to bring social change. He lost hope in democratic methods for reform. He witnessed prejudice, injustice and brutality and saw law favoring the unlawful actions of people in power.

“ We frequently encountered prejudice in the court itself. White witnesses often refused to answer questions from a black attorney. “ (Ref 2 p 150)

Rather than telling witnesses that they were obstructing justice, the judges humiliated the Black lawyers by supporting White witnesses.

“ Instead of citing them for contempt of court, the magistrate would then pose the questions they would not answer from me. I routinely put policemen on the stand and interrogated them; though I would catch them in discrepencies and lies, they never considered my anything but a ‘kaffir lawyer’ (Ref 1 p 150) Mandela also witnessed police brutality and lost faith in judicial system.

Mandela faced another emotional and professional crisis when his name was struck off the roll of accredited attorneys as he was perceived as someone who had a ‘unprofessional and dishonorable conduct’ (Ref 2 p 162) because he was active in the human rights issues of Blacks.

          After trying the militant non-violent methods for a while Mandela felt dissatisfied and wanted to move on to the next stage and arrange violent activities against the government. When Mandela tried to convince ANC members that militant non-violence was not working and they needed violent methods to fight the government, he was warned that he was taking the party on a dangerous road. “Moses Kontane, a powerful figure of ANC said “If we embark on the course Mandela is suggesting, we will be exposing innocent people to massacres by the enemy.” (Ref 2 p 279)

In another meeting J.N. Singh said, “Nonviolence has not failed us, we have failed nonviolence.” ( Ref 2 p 273)

          After Mandela embraced violence as an integral part of his political struggle, he was afraid that either he would be jailed or killed, so he decided to go underground and plan his future organized violence. He confesses,

“We were embarking on a new and more dangerous path, a path of organized violence, the results of which we did not and could not know…The name of this new organization was Umkhonto we Sizwe (The Spear of the nation)---or MK for short. The symbol of the spear was chosen because with this simple weapon Africans had resisted the incursions of whites for centuries.” (Ref 2 p 274)

          Organizing a violent party was a major milestone in Mandela’s life. He was not only embracing violence himself, he had convinced others that it was a worthwhile struggle, a struggle worth living for, worth dying for and even worth killing for.

After going underground and deciding to choose the road of violence Mandela seriously studied all those revolutionary leaders and movements that had made significant political changes in the world all the way from China to Israel to Cuba.

          Although Mandela was never a card holder of Communist Party but he was inspired by Communist ideology and leadership. To lead his own underground party he studied the biographies and writings of Che Guavera, Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro and Menachem Begin. He was impressed by Mao’s original thinking and Begin’s determination who ‘had lead a gurrilla force in a country with neither mountains nor forests, a situation similar to our own.” (Ref 2 p 275) After reading the details of those gurrilla wars Mandela planned his own underground struggle and “accumulated detailed maps and systematically analyzed the terrain of different regions of the country.” ( Ref 2 p 275) I was quite intrigued when I read that Mandela was inspired by ‘Jewish national underground organization Irgun Zvai Leumi, which operated in Israel between 1944 and 1948” (Ref 1 p 168)

While Mandela was underground living at different places in different provinces under a pseudonym David Motosamayi, he was attending different secret meetings and sending messages to different newspapers and organizations from underground. On June 26, 1961, the Freedom Day, Mandela released a letter to South African newspapers from underground. He wrote “ For my own part I have made my choice. I will not leave South Africa, nor will I surrender. Only through hardship, sacrifice and militant action can freedom be won. The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days.” (Ref 2 p 276) Mandela was quite successful to express his commitment to the freedom movement and was gaining popularity among the masses.

When Mandela became reasonably organized, he planned a major attack on the government. At that stage of the struggle he was only willing to attack the buildings but was very careful not to lose any human lives. He did not want to lose popularity by indulging in terrorist attacks. He issued a leaflet on 16th December 1961 on behalf of Umkhonto we Sizwe, which stated, “ Units of Umkhonto we Sizwe today carried out planned attacks against government installations, particularly those connected with the policy of apartheid and race discrimination.” (ref 1 p 122)

While Mandela was planning a revolutionary movement he realized he had limited resources and he could nor organize a successful campaign against a powerful and rich oppressive government so he planned to get help from other African and Communities countries and communities. He decided to leave South Africa and meet with the heads of the African States and get financial and military help for his organization. He left South Africa for a few months to attend an Pan-African conference. During that time he met with many Heads of the States and many political organizations who were involved in militant revolutionary activities. Mandela received a mixed response. Some offered support while others were reluctant.

“…there was a natural reluctance among many African states to support violent struggles elsewhere…”( Ref 2 p 295)

“In Liberia, I met with President Tubman, who gave me five thousand dollars for weapons and training.” (Ref 2 p 300)

Mandela had not only planned to get economic help but also to receive gurrilla training as he wanted to create an army and be the Chief of that underground army. He wanted to walk on the footsteps of Castro and Mao Tse Tung.

“I was now embarking on what was to be the most unfamiliar part of my trip: military training. I had arranged to receive six months of training in Addis Ababa.” ( Ref 2 p 304) Mandela was quite excited to know that there were a number of men who were willing to join the armed struggle, get training and risk their lives. For Mandela he was a high point. He had crossed another line and embraced violence wholeheartedly. Mandela had dreamt to be the Commander in Chief of his own gurrilla army.

“From Khartoum I went directly to Dar es Salam, where I greeted the first group of twenty one Umkhonto recruits who were headed to Ethiopia to train as soldiers. It was a proud moment, for these men had volunteered for duty in the army I was then attempting to create.” ( Ref 2 p 306)

Mandela had systematically planned different stages of his armed struggle. Reading different movements helped him modify other paradigms to fit his needs in South Africa. It was the test of his idealism and realism. After coming back to South Africa he organized his comrades and have a detailed plan.

“In planning the direction and form that MK would take, we considered four types of violent activities: sabortage, gureilla warfare, terrorism and open revolution. For a small and fledgling army, open revolution was inconceivable. Terrorism inevitably reflected poorly on those who used it, undermining any public support it might otherwise garner. Gureilla warfare was a possibility, but since the ANC had been reluctant to embrace violence at all, it made sense to start with the form of violence that inflicted the least harm against individuals: sabortage…Sabortage had the added virtue of requiring the least manpower…Strict instructions were given to members of MK that we would countenance no loss of life. But if sabortage did produce the results we wanted, we were prepared to move to the next stage: gureilla warfare and terrorism.” ( Ref 2 p 283)

          Mandela had finally reached a stage in his life where he had rationalized that ends justified the means. He was not only willing to die but also willing to kill for his ideals. He also realized that his enemies who believed in violence were in the final analysis deciding the course of his political struggle and future. He shared his profound political insight in these words, “a freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressors. At a certain point, one can only fight fire with fire.” (ref 2 p 166)

          It seems after that realization Mandela was mentally prepared to go all the way to bring revolution even if it was bloody, even it involved civil war. Mandela started his military struggle by Sabortage and then gradually escalated to Gurilla War. Their group organized cutting all the wires of government buildings and destroying their telecommunication systems.

The next stage was to prepare bombs and blow up buildings. There were specially chosen targets that were of strategic importance to threaten the apartheid system. Although at that stage there were strict orders to the Guerilla army not to take any guns or kill people but Mandela and his army were mentally prepared to cross that bridge if they needed to do that to bring revolution and overthrow White Government in South Africa. Mandela had proudly presented his gurrilla warfare achievements to African countries before asking for financial and military help. He had confessed, “ Then on the night of 16 December last year the whole of South Africa vibrated under the heavy blows of Umkhonto we Sizwe (The Spear of the Nation). Government buildings were blasted with explosives in Johannesburg, the industrial heart of South Africa, in Port Elizabeth, and in Durban. It was now clear that this was a political demonstration of a formidable kind, and the press announced the beginning of planned acts of sabortage in the country. It was still a small beginning because a government as strong and as aggressive as that of South Africa can never be induced to part with political power by bomb explosions in one night and in three cities only.” (Ref 1 131)

While Mandela was organizing these violent attacks and planning the future of gurilla warfare government was trying to hunt him down. Finally one day they caught ‘The Black Pimpernel” as Mandela was known when he was underground. When Mandela was stopped by the police he “ knew in that instant that my life on the run was over; my seventeen months of ‘freedom’ were about to end.” ( Ref 2 p 313) Mandela was finally arrested on August 5, 1962.

          Mandela being a lawyer and having a charismatic personality had discovered that he could use every encounter with the court system as a tool to make a political statement. He wore his traditional dress to get sympathy of masses as well as the media.

“The initial hearing was set for Monday October 15, 1962…I had chosen traditional dress to emphasize the symbolism that I was a black African walking into a white man’s court.” (Ref 2 p 324) Mandela as a freedom fighter was gradually discovering the art of myth making. He was becoming aware that if he used the media to his advantage and used the African symbols properly, he can become a myth.


Mandela was getting in touch with his hidden qualities, his charisma, his cause, his courage and his commitment and they were all essential ingredients to form a myth in the psyche of the masses.

Since government was not familiar of all of Mandela’s secret violent activities he was lucky to be charged with far less than his real actions. He acknowledged,

‘ …the state clearly did not have enough evidence to link me with Umkhonto we Sizwe or I would have been charged with the far more serious crimes of treason or sabotage.’ (Ref 2 P 317)

If the judge knew all the details Mandela might have received death sentence, but because of the secrecy he received five years imprisonment which was a relief for Mandela.’…the magistrate pronounced sentence; three years for inciting people to strike and two years for leaving the country without a passport; five years in all, with no possibility of parole.’ (Ref 2 p 332)

          For Mandela to be in prison and in isolation was a painful experience. He was seriously affected emotionally. Mandela in the beginning locked horns with the authorities and refused to follow the rules. To teach him a lesson he was put in isolation until he agreed to wear what others were wearing and eat what others were eating. Within a short time of being in isolation, he was afraid he might lose his sanity. He shares that traumatic experience in these words,

 “ For the first few weeks, I was completely and utterly isolated. I did not see the face or hear the voice of another prisoner. I was locked up for twenty-three hours a day, with thirty minutes of exercise in the morning and again in the afternoon. I had never been in isolation before, and every hour seemed like a year…After a time in solitary, I relished the company even of the insects in my cell, and found myself on the verge of initiating conversations with a cockroach.” (Ref 2 p 334)

          After Mandela gave in and promised to follow the rules he was allowed to live and work with other prisoners. Those psychologists who have studied people in sensory deprivation have shown that it is not very long before such people start experiencing hallucinations and having nervous breakdown.

          The more Government investigated the more they discovered the underground activities and secret meetings and finally they found out the details of not only the people involved but also the activities planned. Government took a firm stand to crush all terrorist activities that were planning to overthrow the government. Mandela’s army and the state police were escalating their violent battle. Finally on May 1, 1963, the government enacted legislation designed ‘to break the back’ of Umkhonto’ as Vorster put it.” (Ref 2 p 238) “The law helped transform the country into a police state; no dictator could cover more power than the Ninety Day Detention Law gave to the authorities. As a result, the police became more savage; prisoners were routinely beaten and we soon heard reports of electric shock, suffocation, and other forms of torture.” ( Ref 2 P 239)

          After discovering Mandela’s involvement with Umkhonto he was charged with treason and tried in the Supreme Court. On October 9, 1963, Mandela and his comrades of the struggle were picked up and taken to the court to be tried for

  the most significant political trial in the history of South Africa.” ( Ref 2 p 351)

During Mandela’s famous Rivonia trial Mr Quartus de Wet was the judge and Dr. Percy Yutar, the attorney general of Transval, was the prosecutor. Mandela and his ten companions were charged with two hundred acts of sabortage and violent revolution ‘to overthrow the government’. ( Ref 2 p 352)

          During one the police raids, Umkhonto’s key members were caught red handed with the detailed plans of the terrorist activities and gurilla warfare.

“The keystone of the state’s case was the six-page Plan of Action confiscated in the Rivonia raid. The leaders of the High Command had had this very document before them on the table when the police stormed the farm. Operation Mayibuyi sketches out in general form the plan for a possible commencement of guriella operations, and how it might spark a mass armed uprising against the government. It envisions an initial landing of small guriella forces in four different areas of South Africa and the attacking of preselected targets. The document set a goal of seven thousand MK recruits in the country who would meet the initial outside force of one hundred twenty trained guriellas.” (Ref 2 p 358)

Mandela made confessions in court and openly and honestly shared his political and military plans, his philosophy and training. He shared that he had left the country to get military training. “I said that I underwent training because if there was to be a guerrilla war, I wanted to be able to stand and fight beside my own people.”

In his defence Mandela also highlighted that the plan was in embryonic state and it did not have the blessings of ANC.

He ended his presentation in the court in a dramatic way. He stared right in the judge’s eyes and stated from his memory,

          “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. 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.”

          I found it interesting that Mandela during his student life had taken part in stage plays. He used all his acting abilities in court as he knew that not only people in court but all of South Africa was watching his performance.

          There was a pin drop silence in the court and then women started to cry.

Mandela his friends and lawyers were all confident that they would get death sentence. Mandela’s lawyer asked him if he would ask for an appeal. Mandela refused as he believed he would serve his cause far more dead than alive as he would be transformed into a martyr. He said,’… if anything we might serve the cause greater in death as martyrs than we ever could in life’ (Ref 2 p 373)

          Mandela had realized that losing his life were a reasonable gamble in becoming part of a myth.

Every body was shocked and relieved to hear that the judge rather than giving death sentence had given life imprisonment. The judge stated,

’… giving the matter very serious consideration I have decided not to impose the supreme penalty which in a case like this would usually be the proper penalty for the crime, but consistent with my duty that is the only leniency which I can show. The sentence in the case of all the accused will be one of life imprisonment.” ( Ref 2 p 376)

It is an interesting question why did the judge give life imprisonment rather than the death sentence. There seems to be a lot of pressure inside and outside the country not to judge them harshly. UN had requested amnesty for them. Mandela felt that the judge did not want to be perceived as the murderer of Black leaders as Mandela had highlighted that he was a Black man in a White court.

          After the verdict Mandela and his comrades, the freedom fighters were sent to the Robben Island.

          While Mandela was in prison the military struggle escalated. His group MK started throwing bombs and started killing innocent civilians. Mandela heard all that in jail as their Chief and justified it by stating that it was a reaction to the Government oppressive regime.

“Mk’s first car bomb attack took place in may of 1983, and was aimed at an air force military intelligence office in the heart of Pretoria. This was an effort to retaliate for the unprovoked attacks the military had launched on the ANC in Maseru and elsewhere and was a clear escalation of the armed struggle. Nineteen people were killed and more than two hundred injured.

          “The killing of civilians was a tragic accident, and I felt a profound horror at the death toll. But as disturbed as I was by these casualties, I knew that such accidents were the inevitable consequences of the decision to embark on a military struggle.” (Ref 2 p 518)

          As the violence escalated and killings on both sides increased Mandela realized that he was deeply entrenched in a cycle of violence. He also realized that his army was not big and strong enough to take over the Government so he changed his strategy and became ready for negotiations again. During that time the world opinion was also in his favour and United Nations started supporting the sanctions on South African Government.

          Mandela after suffering for more than two decades in the prison realized that he had to adopt a different strategy to gain his goal. He finally got himself ready for a dialogue with the enemy.

“If we did not start a dialogue soon, both sides would be plunged into a dark night of oppression, violence, and war.” ( Ref 2 p524)

Mandela realized that since he got the Blacks in the mess, he has to do something to get them out. He wanted to win freedom for himself and his nation and not die in the prison. He used to have a recurring nightmare that he was released from prison and there is no one to receive him. No glory, no fame, no popularity. He did not want all his efforts to go in vain. He wanted to die as a winner not as a loser. His prolonged soul-searching ended in a profound insight.

“We had been fighting against white minority rule for three quarters of a century. We had been engaged in an armed struggle for more than two decades. Many people on both sides had already died. The enemy was strong and resolute….We had right on our side, but not yet might. It was clear to me that a military victory was a distant if not impossible dream. It simply did not make sense for both sides to lose thousands if not millions of lives in a conflict that was unnecessary. They must have known this as well. It was time to talk.” ( Ref 2 P 524)

          It is interesting to read how Mandela changed the course of his armed struggle and by doing that the future of his country. He was ready to have a dialogue and to negotiate. Some thought he was getting weaker others thought he was getting wiser.

He realized that in the political struggle, the might was as important as right. From idealism he was gradually moving towards realism. As the violence escalated, so did the opportunity to negotiate. The social unrest reached such a boiling point that

“On June 12, 1986, the government imposed a State of Emergency in an attempt to keep a lid on the protest.” (Ref 2 p 529)

After Mandela showed willingness to negotiate, the Government also agreed to have secret preliminary meetings.

“The first formal meeting of the secret working group took place in May 1988…” (Ref 2 p 536) Whites were afraid that if Blacks got any power they would either kill Whites or force them to leave the country. Mandela with his wisdom realized that he needed to reassure Whites. Even in jail Mandela had more political power than many heads of the state. He told them that South Africa belonged to Blacks as well as Whites. He reassured them in these words,“ We do not want to drive you into the sea, I said.” ( Ref 2 p 539)

Finally President Botha agreed to meet with Mandela. They had a number of secret meetings in which they discussed the conditions of negotiations but unfortunately could not come to any agreement. Mandela demanded unconditional release of all political prisoners which Botha declined. P W Botha made repeated offers that he was willing to release Mnadela and give him freedom on condition that he ‘unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon” (Ref 1 p 194) but Mandela turned his offers down. Finally there was a crisis in the government and Botha resigned in August 1989 and was replaced by de Klerk “ as acting president and affirmed his commitment to change and reform.” (Ref 2 p 551)

          Finally when De Clark came into power he showed willingness to negotiate and have a genuine dialogue. ‘… Mr. De Klerk seemed to be making an attempt to truly understand.” (Ref 2 p 554)

Mandela played a pivotal role and prepared both parties ANC and the Government to come to negotiating table and set foundation for a free South Africa and non-apartheid elections. Mandela reassured the Whites of South Africa that it would be a peaceful transition and they would not be killed, put in prison or expelled from the country.

Mandela was lucky that he had an enemy like de Klerk who was willing to negotiate, have a dialogue and share power. Presidency of de Klerk was the beginning of the end of the White minority government. The way we need two parties to escalate the war, we also need two parties to agree to find a mutually agreeable solution.

          Finally Mandela was a free man on Feb 11, 1990 and millions of people celebrated his release. It was one of the most historic moments of 20th century.

After his release serious discussions started to transfer power. Mandela was also lucky to have De Clark as his opponent who was also willing to let the power be transferred from White Minority to Black majority. After a long violent struggle, Mandela became a symbol of peace, justice and democracy. In those 27 years when he was in prison he had become a myth.

          I found it quite fascinating that even after his release, even when he started serious negotiations with de Klerk and the government, he did not give up his armed struggle. He confessed,

“I told the reporters that there was no contradiction between my continuing support for the armed struggle and my advocating negotiations. It was the reality and the threat of the armed struggle that had brought the government to the verge of negotiations. I added that when the state stopped inflicting violence on the ANC, the ANC would reciprocate with peace.” (Ref 2 p 568)

Mandela not only did not give up violence he believed that his violent methods had brought him closer to peace. Bur after release he faced another problem, his party ANC had to deal with the violence of Zulus led by Chief Buthulezi, who was the head of the Inkatha Freedom Party and the chief minister of KwaZulu.

While Mandela wanted to talk about peace, there was escalating violence in the country. South Africa seemed to be at the verge of a civil war.

“In the meantime, Natal became a killing ground. Heavily armed Inkatha supporters had in effect declared war on ANC strongholds across the Natal Midlands region and around Pietermaritzburg. Entire villages were set alight, dozens of people were killed, hundreds were wounded, and thousands became refugees. In March 1990 alone, 230 people lost their lives in this internecine violence. In natal, Zulu was murdering Zulu, for Inkatha members and ANC partisans are Zulus.” (Ref 2 p 576)

Mandela must have felt guilty that he was one of the parties who had joined the cycle of violence and was gradually losing control. Mandela, like Gandhi in India, also realized that he was not only fighting a battle with the Whites but also with his own countrymen who had a different dream. Gandhi went on a hunger strike to call for peace, while Mandela went to talk the masses begging to throw away their arms. But his requests was as ineffective as Gandhi’s.

“ In February, only two weeks after my release, I went to Durban and spoke to a crowd of over 100,000 people at King’s Park, almost all of whom were Zulus. I pleaded with them to lay down their arms, to take each other’s hands in peace: “Take your guns, your knives, and your pangas, and throw them into the sea! Close down the death factories, End this war now!” But my call fell on deaf ears. The fighting and dying continued.” ( Ref 2 p 576)

While I read the details of the killings and the escalation of the violence and Mandela’s appeal to stop violence, I wondered why Mandela did not realize that he was one of the people who wanted them to pick up arms and start an armed struggle. Mandela, like Gandhi, was also surprised that his dedicated followers and disciples were killing people while he was asking them to be peaceful. They had opened a Pandora’s box that they could not close.

To bring peace in the country Mandela started having meetings with de Klerk as well as Chief Buthulezi. He wanted to arrange elections and transfer of power as early as possible. In spite of Mandela’s wishes and attempts the violence was on the rise,

“ Violence in the country was worsening, the death toll of 1990 was already over fifteen hundred, more than all the political deaths of the previous year. After conferring with my colleagues, I felt it necessary to speed up the process of normalization. Our country was bleeding to death, and we had to move ahead faster.” ( Ref 2 p 585)

Finally Mandela realized he had to suspend his armed struggle after 30 years. That was a major step in Mandela’s life. He could not go on following the path of violence if he wanted peace for his people. So he signed a document with the government and agreed to“ suspend the armed struggle.” ( Ref 2 p 586)

Mandela was ready to temporarily suspend but still not wholeheartedly ready to give it up permanently. As violence escalated his faith wavered. His dialogue with the government was still shaky and fragile like Mandela’s faith in peaceful negotiations.

“As the violence continued to spiral, I began to have second thoughts about the suspension of the armed struggle. Many of the people in the ANC were restive, and in September, at a press conference, I said that the continuing violence might necessitate taking up arms once more. The situation looked very grim, and any understanding that had been achieved with the government seemed lost.” (Ref 2 p 589)

Mandela, Chief Buthulezi and de Klerk were going through a political and violent roller coaster. Their triangle reminded me of the triangle of Gandhi, Jinnah and Lord Mountbatte. Buthulezi like Jinnah wanted a separate Zulu state while Mandela like Gandhi wanted to liberate South Africa in one piece. Mandela did not want South Africa to follow the footsteps of India. Mandela believed that the government’s agenda to ‘partition’ South Africa in eight nations based on tribes [ North and South Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Vendu, Xhosa, and Zulu] was misleading, dangerous and disastrous. “The newspapers have christened the nationalists’ plan as one of ‘Bantustans’. The hybrid word is, in many ways, extremely misleading. It derives from the partitioning of India after the  reluctant departure of the British, and as a condition thereof,  into separate states, Hindustan and Pakistan…there will be forcible uprooting and mass removals of millions of people to ‘homogenous administrative area’…the term ‘Bantustan is therefore a complete misnomer, and merely tends to help the Nationalists perpetrate a fraud.” (Ref 1 p 78)

Mandela and Buthelezi, like Gandhi and Jinnah had different dreams and there was a danger that one leader’s dream can turn the other leader’s dream into a bloody nightmare. They talked and discussed and argued and fought but could not resolve issues, while the whole nation was flirting with civil war, Blacks killing Blacks, followers of ANC and Inthaka like followers of Congress and Muslim League at each other’s throats.

“The violence continued between our two organizations. Each month people were dying by the hundreds…I could not sit idly by as the violence continued, and I sought another meeting with Chief Buthelezi. In April I went down to Durban and we again made strong statements and signed another agreement. But again, the ink was no sooner dry than it was drenched in blood.” ( Ref 2 p 591) Mandela and Buthelezi both talked about peace but in action supported violence by giving their followers and disciples to follow their violent instincts. They were both not ready to surrender completely.

Finally Mandela realized that he had to give up violence and accept peace wholeheartedly otherwise thousands of more innocent people would die. In the end he agreed to resolve his issues.

“…we in South Africa were settling our differences among ourselves. Mr. De Klerk talked about the need for a transitional, ‘power-sharing’ government on a democratic basis. The national Party’s chief delegate to the talks, Dawie de Villiers, even offered an apology for apartheid.” (Ref 2 p 595)

Even after deciding to give up arms he was not willing to give them to de Klerk, he wanted them to hand over to the joint government. When de Klerk stated that ANC had a ‘private army’ Mandela stated, ”We told him that we would turn in our weapons only when we were a part of the government collecting those weapons.” (Ref 2 p 597)

Even after all the good will expressed the balance between violent and peaceful forces was quite precarious. The future of South Africa remained unsure till the last moments.

“…on May 15, 1992, prospects of agreement looked bleak. What we disagreed about was threatening all that we had agreed upon .Mr. de Klerk and I had not managed to find a consensus on most of the outstanding issues. The government seemed prepared to wait indefinitely, their thinking was that the longer we waited, the more support we would lose.’ (Ref 2 P 602)

Before dawn there was the darkest hour. Mandela wanted to have his last affair with violence before final exit. It was not easy to give up an ideology, a philosophy, a lifestyle that Mandela had adopted for a long time.

‘…on the night of June 17, 1992, a heavily armed force of Inkatha members secretly raided the Vaal township of Boipatong and killed forty-six people. Most of the dead were women and children. It was the fourth mass killing on ANC people that week….no arrest were made…no investigation began…Mr de Klerk said nothing…I found this to be the last straw, and my patience snapped…’ (Ref 2 p 603)

That was the last time when Mandela’s ‘patience snapped’ and all the anger, resentment and bitterness came to the surface. He had to purge all those violent emotions before he could cleanse himself for good.

‘…four days after the murders, I addressed a crowd of twenty thousand angry ANC supporters …I likened the behaviour of national party to the Nazis in Germany, and publicly warned de Klerk that if he sought to impose new measures to restrict demonstrations or free expression, the ANC would launch a nationwide defiance campaign with myself as the first volunteer…at the rally, I saw signs that read   ‘..MANDELA GIVE US GUNS’ and ‘ VICTORY THROUGH BATTLE NOT TALK’…they were beginning to think that the only way to overthrow apartheid was through the barrel of a gun…(Ref 2 p 604)

Mandela soon realized that if he gave license to pick up guns he might ignite another cycle of violence, a cycle that might start civil war. Mandela realized the significance of the moment before it was too late.

Finally Mandel;a and de Klerk found some common grounds and agreed on June 3, 1993 to have a date for elections and start a new chapter of South African history. In a special meeting ‘the multiparty forum voted to set a date for the country’s first national, nonracial, one-person-one-vote election; April 27, 1994…”

Even after Mandela found some common ground with his enemy he could not communicate with his African rival Chief Buthulezi who had decided to boycott elections and transfer of power. He wanted his own separate Bantustan like Pakistan. Mandela finally used his charm and charisma and embraced Buthelezi that Gandhi could not do with Jinnah.

“I arranged to meet Chief Buthelezi in Durban on March1…” Mandela was determined to make a deal and he succeeded when he stated, “I will go down on my knees to beg those who want to drag our country into bloodshed.” (Ref 2  P 615)

After that meeting both leaders came to a mutually acceptable plan.

I find it fascinating that Mandela and Buthelezi  came to an agreement and did not let government divide South Africa in eight Bantustans. They took responsibility for their people and their future. In this way they were significantly different than Jinnah and Gandhi who could not resolve their conflicts. It is interesting that many followers of Gandhi and Jinnah, members of Indian Congress and Pakistani Muslim League even today, after half a century of partition put all the blame on the British Government and refuse to give any responsibility to their leaders for not resolving their conflicts peacefully and setting the stage for a massacre.

          Mandela was also successful in making a deal with de Klerk that Gandhi could not make with Lord Mountbatten. He engaged him in a dialogue and made him accept his conditions of sharing power. He told de Klerk in a meeting,

‘”I think we are a shining example to the entire world of people drawn from different racial groups who have a common loyalty, a common love, to their common country… ‘sir, you are one of those I rely upon. We are going to face the problem of this country together.” At which point I reached over to take his hand and said, “ I am proud to hold your hand for us to go forward.” Mr de Klerk seemed surprised but pleased.”

Mandela’s resolution of conflicts with Buthelezi and de Klerk at the eleventh hour in a peaceful way, setting the stage for elections without the bloodshed of a civil war, was one of the reasons that made him a respectable stateman in the eyes of the world.

After Mandela resolved issues with de Klerk and Buthelezi road was clear to have elections and transfer power.

‘ I did not go into that voting station alone on April 27 [1994], I was casting my vote with all of them…I had cast the first vote of my life…’

Results of elections were interesting. ANC won but not with two thirds majority to make the government. They needed help from the representatives of other political parties to make constitution. Mandela wrote,

‘…we polled 62.6 percent of the national vote, slightly short of the two-thirds needed had we wished to push through a final constitution without support from other parties….we captured 22 percent in KwaZulu Natal, which was won by Inkatha.”

Inkhatha was like Muslim League in India who had won a majority in Zulu province but they stayed with Mandela and worked together and South Africa did not divide like India. There were mixed emotions. Mandela stated,

“Some in the ANC were disappointed that we did not cross the two-thirds threshold, but I was not one of them. In fact I was relieved, had we won two-thirds of the vote and been able to write a constitution unfettered by input from others, people would argue that we had created an ANC constitution, not a South African constitution. I wanted a true government of national unity.” (Ref 2 P 619)

Mandela and de Klerk were making history.

‘’’On the evening of May 2, Mr de Klerk made a gracious concession speech. After more than three centuries of rule, the white minority was conceding defeat and turning over power to the black majority…I congratulated Mr. De Klerk for his strong showing…” and said ‘ this is a time to heal the old wounds and build a new South Africa.” (Ref 2 P 619)

Mandela and de Klerk were awarded Nobel prize for their efforts in South Africa.

          One of the most intriguing aspect of Mandela’s life is that a political activist who lead a violent struggle for decades was awarded a Nobel Peace prize. There were a number of people all over the world who were surprised to hear that news. And those people included Mandela himself. He could not believe that he would be given such an award as he knew he lead a militant and violent movement. He stated,

“Even during the bleakest years on Robben Island, Amnesty International would not campaign for us on the grounds that we had pursued an armed struggle, and their organization would not represent anyone who had embraced violence. It was for that reason that I assumed the Nobel committee would never consider the man who had started Umkhonto we Sizwe for the peace prize.” (Ref 2 P 612)

          I find it quite fascinating that while Mandela, who was inspired by Communist leaders like Mao and Castro believed that the only way to bring a political change in South Africa was through violent means, there was another Black leader Desmund Tutu who was his contemporary and shared his dream of a free and just South Africa,  believed that such a change could be brought by peaceful means. He was also awarded Nobel Peace Prize. During his Nobel Prize speech in Oslo, Norway, he shared his philosophy of non-violence by stating that he did not agree with violence whether it was used by the Government to suppress and oppress people or by revolutionary organizations to attack the government. He stated, ‘….we are opposed to all forms of violence-that of a repressive and unjust system and that who seek to overthrow that system…”

Dear Friends, In the end all I can say that unlike many other South African freedom fighters who were murdered or who died in jail, Mandela he was fortunate to have a long life and enjoy the fruits of his struggles. Although it was a long walk but finally he was able to embrace the goddess of freedom and kiss the princess of democracy. Finally he could walk in the streets of South Africa as a free man. Finally his dream had come true and in his struggle he never let go his ideals, ideals that he felt were worth living for, dying for even killing for.



             He justified his violent movement in these days, “It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk” (Ref 2 p 624)….”

          Nelson Mandela believed that in South Africa the foundations of apartheid system could only be shaken with bombs, the chains of oppression and discrimination could only be melted with fire and peace could only be won through violence.     

                             KHALID SOHAIL

Sep 18, 2003


1.Mandela Nelson The Struggle Is My life

Pathfinder New York 1990

2. Mandela Nelson Long Walk To Freedom

Little, Brown and Company

Toronto 1995