Upon his release on February 11, 1990, Mandela was at the forefront of the ANC negotiations with the apartheid regime
Action against poverty is the focus of Nelson Mandela International Day this year. The South African freedom icon was born on July 18. In recognition of his great contribution in fostering a culture of peace and freedom, the UN General Assembly in November 2009 set aside the day to celebrate his life. Mandela was South Africa’s first black president, following the first non-racial democratic elections which were held on April 27, 1994. Before that, the apartheid regime had detained him for 27 years. Indeed, the road to democracy for the majority of South Africans was a long and difficult one.
Dating back to the arrival of Whites at the Cape in 1652, the indigenous peoples of South Africa came under White control and domination. Soon, all peoples of colour were denied the vote and hence, a say in the running of the country. Earlier, as a young lawyer, Mandela had joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944. He rose through the ranks to become its deputy national president in 1952.
He championed a non-violent resistance campaign against white supremacy. However, following the mass killing of protestors in Sharpeville in 1960, Mandela rolled up his sleeves to set up a guerilla wing of the ANC, to fi ght the white regime. Between 1961 and 1962 he was in and out of jail over treason-related cases and was finally sentenced to life in prison, with hard labour, in 1964. That, however, did not break his revolutionary spirit, for he even championed a strike while in prison, which forced the authorities to improve their conditions in prison. His long walk to freedom began in 1989 with the election of F. W. de Klerk as president who was increasingly under local and international pressure to dismantle the apartheid apparatus.
Upon his release on February 11, 1990, Mandela was at the forefront of the ANC negotiations with the apartheid regime, which led to the establishment of a multiracial government. He surprised many by preaching a message of reconciliation. His approach to the negotiations facilitated the first non-racial elections. It was a culmination of years of struggle and a negotiated settlement, which led to liberation organisations being unbanned, political prisoners released and the return of exiles, as well as all-party negotiations to draft an interim constitution.
This change in South African history came after long, tense negotiations in 1991 and 1992, with the South African government, the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party and other liberation movements as principals. The ANC won the 1994 elections resoundingly and Mandela went on to become the first black president. Interestingly, after serving for only one term, Mandela quit politics in 1999. He, however, continued to push for social justice, until his death in December 2013.
In upholding Mandela’s cherished vision of social justice, AfricanDefenders, a Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network, has dedicated itself to the promotion and protection of human rights defenders across the African continent. Hassan Shire, the chairperson of AfricanDefenders, says: “To the frontline human rights defenders of the continent, who raise an active voice for those who cannot speak up – wherever you are, you are part of a global movement.”