Remarkable People

ID #5260

Nelson Mandela 2 Political Activity.

After the 1948 victory of the National Party, which supported a policy of racial segregation, Mandela began participating in politics. He was prominent in the ANC's 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1955 Congress of the People, whose adoption of the Freedom Charter became the basis of the anti-apartheid cause. During this time, Mandela and Oliver Tambo operated Mandela and Tambo, which provided free or low-cost legal counsel to blacks who lacked legal representation.

Mahatma Gandhi influenced Mandela as well as succeeding generations of anti-apartheid activists. Mandela later took part in the January 2007 conference in New Delhi marking the 100th anniversary of Gandhi's introduction of satyagraha (non-violent resistance).

Initially committed to nonviolent resistance, Mandela and others were arrested in December 1956 and charged with treason. All defendants were acquitted at the marathon Treason Trial of 1956–1961 followed. From 1952–1959, a new class of black activists --the Africanists -- disrupted ANC activities in the townships, demanding more drastic steps against the regime. The ANC leadership felt that the Africanists were moving too fast as well as challenging their leadership. It consequently bolstered its position through alliances with small white, coloured, and indian parties to give an appearance of a wider appeal than the Africanists. The Africanists ridiculed the 1955 Kliptown Conference for the concession of the 100,000-strong ANC to a single vote in a congressional alliance.

Four secretaries-general of the five participating parties secretly belonged to the South African Communist Party (SACP). In 2003 Blade Nzimande, the SACP General Secretary, revealed that Walter Sisulu, the ANC Secretary-General, secretly joined the SACP in 1955 which meant all five Secretaries General were SACP. This explains why Sisulu relegated the ANC from a dominant role to one of five equals.

In 1959, the ANC lost its most militant support when most of Africanists, with support from Ghana and Transvaal-based Basotho, broke away to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) under the direction of Robert Sobukwe and Potlako Leballo.

In 1961, Mandela became leader of the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, abbreviated MK). Mandela described the move to armed struggle as a last resort. Years of repression and violence convinced him that non-violent protest could not achieve progress against apartheid. He coordinated sabotage against military and government targets and made plans for a guerrilla war if sabotage failed to end apartheid. Wolfie Kadesh explained the bombing campaign thus: "We were going to start on December 16 1961, to blast the symbols … of apartheid, like pass offices, magistrates courts ... post and ... government offices. But we were to do it in such a way that nobody would be hurt, nobody would get killed." Mandela also raised funds for MK abroad and arranged for training of the group.

MK later waged a guerrilla war against the apartheid regime in which civilians were casualties. Mandela later admitted that the ANC, in its struggle against apartheid, violated human rights and sharply criticized those who attempted to remove statements to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which confirmed this fact.

Until July 2008, Mandela and ANC members were barred from entering the United States without a waiver from the US Secretary of State because of their designation as terrorists.

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Last update: 2014-03-30 20:26
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.3

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