Nelson Rolilahla Mandela was born in a village near Umtata in the Transkei on the 18 July 1918. His father was the principle councillor to the Acting Paramount Chief of Thembuland. After his father’s death, the young Rolihlahla became the paramount Chief’s ward to be groomed to assume high office. However, influenced by the cases that came before the Chief’s court, he determined to become a lawyer.

Hearing the elders’ stories of his ancestors’ velour-during the wars of resistance in defence of their fatherland, he dreamed also of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of his people. After receiving a primary education at a Johannesburg where he completed his BA by correspondence, took articles of clerkship and commenced study for his LLB.

He entered politics in earnest while studying in Johannesburg by joining the African National Congress in 1942. At the high of second war a small group of young Africans, members of the African National Congress, banded together under the leadership of Anton Lembede. Among them were William Nkomo, Walter Sisulu, Oliver R. Tambu, Ashby P. Mda and Nelson Mandela.

Starting out with 60 members, all of whom were residing around the Witwatersrand, these young people set themselves the formidable task of transforming the ANC into a mass movement, deriving its strength and motivation from the unlettered opposition to the old guards, Lembede and his colleagues espoused a radical African Nationalism grounded in the principle of national self-determination. In September 19944 they came together to found the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL).

Mandela soon impressed his peers by his disciplined work and consistent effort and was elected to the Secretary ship of the Youth League in 1947. By painstaking work, campaigning at the grassroots and through its mouthpiece, Inyaniso (Truth) the ANCYL was able to canvass support for its policies amongst the ANC membership.

At 1945 annual conference of the ANC, two of the League’s Leaders, Anton Lembede and Ashby Mda, were elected onto the National Executive Committee(NEC). Two years later another Youth League Leader, Oliver R. Tambo became a member of the NEC. Spurred on by the victory of the National Party which won the 1948 all-white elections on the 1949 annual conference, the programme of action inspired by the Youth League which  advocated the weapons of boycott, strike, civil disobedience and non-co-operation was accepted as official ANC policy. The programme of action had been drawn up by a sub-committee of the ANCYL that composed of David Bopape, Ashby Mda, Nelson Mandela, James Njongwe, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo.

To insure its implementation Youth League the membership replaced older leaders with a number of younger men. Walter Sisulu, a founding member of the Youth League was elected Secretary General. The conservative Dr A.B. Xuma lost the presidency to Dr J.S. Moroka, a man with a reputation for greater militancy. The following year, 1950 Mandela himself was elected to the NEC at national conference. The ANCYL programme aimed at the attainment of full citizenship, direct parliamentary representation for all South Africans. In policy documents of which Mandela was an important co-author, the ANCYL paid special attention to the redistribution of the land, trade union rights, education and culture. The ANCYL aspired to free and compulsory education for all children, as well as mass education for adults. When the ANC launched its campaign for the defiance of unjust laws in 1952, Mandela was elected National Volunteer-in-Chief.

The Defiance campaign was conceived as a mass civil disobedience campaign that would snowball from a core of selected volunteers to involve more and more ordinary people, culminating in mass defiance.

Fulfilling his responsibility as Volunteer-in-Chief, Mandela traveled the country organizing resistance to discriminatory legislation. Charged and brought to trial for his role in the campaign. The court found that Mandela and his co-accused had consistently advised their followers to adopt a peaceful course of action and to avoid all violence.

For his part in the defiance campaign, Mandela was convicted of contravening the suppression of communism act and given a suspended prison sentence, shortly after the campaign ended; he was also prohibited from attending gatherings and confined to Johannesburg for six months.

During this period of restrictions, Mandela wrote the attorneys admission examination and was admitted to the profession. He opened a practice in Johannesburg, in partnership with Oliver Tambo.

In recognition of his outstanding contribution during the defiance campaign Mandela had been elected to the presidency of both the Youth League and the Transvaal region of the ANC itself.  Oliver Tambo was ANC National chairman at the time of his death in April 1993 then Mandela was out of the prison and became the first black president of South Africa under the ANC election win and died at age of 95 years.

Hassan Abtidon


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