Written by team I Kid You Not, with contributions from Ananya Chakraborti, a grade 9 student
Nelson Mandela was one of the most remarkable leaders of the twentieth century. He successfully led the struggle against the unjust system of Apartheid. As the first black president of South Africa, Mandela helped his country become a multiracial democratic Rainbow Nation, “ at peace with itself and with the world.”
What is the Apartheid system?
Apartheid is an Afrikaans word that means Apartness.
It was the name of a system of racial discrimination and segregation unique to South Africa during the white minority rule. In simple words, apartheid basically divided people on the basis of their skin colour.
Blacks, coloureds and Indians, who form the majority of South Africa’s population, were forced to live only in areas and work only in professions specified for them. Apartheid also denied the majority of South Africans any political rights.
South Africa was first colonized by the Portuguese, then by the Dutch and later by the British. Europeans kept taking away lands and resources from the African tribes and pushing them into slavery. But apartheid became a legally enforced system when the all-white Afrikaaner National Party came to power in the 1940s. The new government introduced very strict and almost complete segregation between whites and non-whites. They not only separated whites and non-whites, but they also created separation among blacks, coloureds, and Indians.
- Non-whites were confined to certain areas, often crowded and unsanitary outskirts of towns.
- Non-whites could work only in jobs and areas that the government allowed them. They had to carry government-issued passes to enter white areas for work.
- Separate public spaces, and transportation and shopping areas were set up for non-whites.
- Education was segregated with non-whites being taught only in Afrikaans.
- Better paying jobs, businesses and employment were reserved for the white minority.
- In 1950, the government further reserved 80% of land for the white minority.
- In 1959, the government created division among the blacks by creating ten African homelands called Bantustans.
There was opposition to Apartheid both within the country and internationally. Non-whites and many whites campaigned for greater equality and political freedom for all South Africans.
Many countries objected to Apartheid. South Africa had to leave the Commonwealth in 1961. As decades passed, countries imposed trade bans on South Africa.
Apartheid continued for half a century and South Africa suffered economically and politically. It was in 1990, that Apartheid laws were finally removed and South Africans became equal citizens irrespective of their race. And this miracle was achieved by the combined efforts of President F W de Klerk and the great South African leader, Nelson Mandela.
Who was Nelson Mandela
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a South African revolutionary who was born into the Thembu royal family on 18 July 1918.
He was a leader of the African National Party, which fought for the rights of non-white South Africans. Nelson Mandela spent decades in prison from 1963 to 1990. He served as the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.
Mandela spent 27 years in prison for raising his voice against the apartheid system.
The Anti-Apartheid Movement
At first, Mandela and other members of the ANC waged a peaceful struggle against apartheid. After the Sharpville massacre in 1960, in which dozens of blacks were killed by the police, Mandela encouraged blacks to take up arms against apartheid. Mandela even went to Algeria for guerrilla training.
Amandla Awethu-Power to the People
In 1962, Mandela was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for planning and encouraging armed resistance. In the court, Mandela defended his beliefs, “ 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 need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
From Mandela to “Madiba”
Mandela and fellow black leaders were kept at the Robben Island prison where they were treated very harshly.
In the meantime, international pressure on South Africa to end Apartheid kept growing. In 1990, president F.W. De Klerk pledged to end the apartheid system and released Mandela from prison. Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk designed the new constitution which gave equal rights and status to all South Africans. In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize. Elections were held in 1994 under the new constitution and Nelson Mandela was elected as the president of the new Republic of South Africa.
The end of Apartheid
The inhuman and discriminatory system of Apartheid finally came to an end and South Africa became a Rainbow Nation where people of all colours and nationalities could live together peacefully. As President, Mandela worked hard to bring whites and nonwhites together and giving up centuries of hatred and anger. He earned the respect of all South Africans who affectionately called him Madiba, a term of respect for elders.
Nelson Mandela died in 2013 but he left us great lessons on truth, justice and forgiveness.