Nelson Mandela's Beginnings

© Eric Miller

Mandela’s Original Role

Nelson Rolihlahla (Madiba) Mandela is an amazing man who changed history in South Africa and brought democracy to the nation. Nelson Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in the small village of Mvezo, near Umtata in Transkei, South Africa. His father was the Chief Councillor to the Superior Chief of the Thembu. As a young boy, he was being prepared to take over as the Chief of the Thembu.

With the death of his father in 1930, he was placed under the care of his guardian and cousin, David Dalindyebo, the acting Chief of the Thembu. While at home, a prepared marriage was being set up for him.

To avoid getting married, Mandela and his cousin Justice moved to Johannesburg where he worked temporarily as a night watchman. Nelson Mandela’s goal was to become a lawyer.

In Johannesburg, he met Walter Sisulu who assisted him in finding employment as an articled clerk with a legal firm. When he completed his BA degree by correspondence in 1941, Mandela enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand for an LLB.

1952 Defiance Campaign

Together with Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela helped in founding the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) in 1944. By 1948 he was holding the position of National Secretary.

In 1949 the African National Congress (ANC) supported the 'Programme of Action' handed in at their annual conference. The more radical members such as Mandela and Sisulu were elected to the program. Mandela and Sisulu did not trust other racial groups, but Mandela's views changed during the 1952 Defiance Campaign.

Mandela was made the National 'Volunteer-in-chief' of the Defiance Campaign. As part of his duties, he moved around South Africa signing up volunteers who were prepared to break apartheid laws. As their first sign of defiance against Apartheid, Mandela and 51 volunteers started breaking the curfew rules.

First Black Legal Partnership

In December 1952, Mandela and Oliver Tambo opened the first Black legal partnership in the country. In the same month, Mandela and some other activists were charged under the Suppression of Communism Act.

Mandela was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment with hard labour, suspended for two years. Over a period of nine years, he was put under banning orders. In this time he was also made the Deputy National President of the ANC.

Even though he was not allowed to attend the meetings of the ANC, he worked with small groups of the ANC members.

The M Plan

Nelson Mandela played a major role in the constructing of the 'M Plan' (named after him). The plan formulated the grouping of ANC members to cope with underground activity. Renewed bans made it imperative for Madiba to resign from the ANC in September 1953.

From that point Madiba had to lead secretly, except during the year of the Treason Trial. In December 1956 Mandela and 155 political activists were arrested and charged with High Treason. Almost five years later, Justice Rumpff found all of the accused not guilty.

In the late 1950s Mandela became National President of the ANC Youth League. By 1959 the treason trial was still in progress. In the same year, the ANC planned an anti-pass laws campaign. The campaign was displaced when the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), arranged mass anti-pass protests on 21 March 1960.

State of Emergency Declared

During one of the protests, the Sharpeville massacre occurred. This resulted with the banning of the ANC and the PAC and the government declared a state of emergency. During the time period of the emergency up 1 800 political activists, including Mandela, were imprisoned without charge or trial.

In March 1961 an All-In Africa Conference was held in Pietermaritzburg. Various political groups came together. The banning order on Mandela expired on the eve of the conference, allowing him to make a surprise appearance. Subsequently he was placed as the Honorary Secretary of the All-In National Action Council.

Nelson Mandela Early Years

At the end of the 1950s, Nelson Mandela was a deeply committed leader in the ANC....more

Nelson Mandela Prison Years by Benjamin Pogrund

Mandela and five of his closest colleagues were transferred from Robben Island to the easier conditions of Pollsmoor prison on the mainland....more