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Nelson Mandela
(1918 - 2013)


Nelson Mandela was South Africa's first black president; he was elected in a democratic election in 1994, and vowed to dismantle apartheid in South Africa.  While racial segregation had long been the practice in South Africa–a controversial Land Act had in 1913 barred blacks from owning or working on farms-- the practice was cemented in laws enacted in the late 1950's.  Opponents of the controversial Land Act formed the South African National Native Congress, which ultimately became the African National Congress, or ANC.

            The majority white government passed laws which ordered blacks from their homelands, and permitted the lands to be sold at low prices to whites.  Blacks were removed to separate townships and segregated from each other, thereby reducing any political power they may have had as a group.

            Mandela was from the ethnic Xhosa group, born to a royal family.  Mandela became a lawyer and practiced in Johannesburg, becoming active in African nationalist politics.  Mandela and a partner established the first black law firm in South Africa in 1952.  After the bloody Sharpeville Massacre in March of 1960, Mandela became frustrated with non-violent going underground to learn military techniques and to organize support for more violent demonstrations.  

            Mandela was arrested early on  for seditious activities, receiving a five year sentence in 1962.   In 1964, he was tried on additional charges, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the government.  In 1985, then South African President P.W. Botha offered to release Mandela if he would completely renounce violent activities; Mandela turned the offer down.

            In the 1970's and 80's, world powers began pressuring South Africa to end the practice of apartheid, imposing economic sanctions.   Change began after F.W. de Klerk assumed the Presidency in 1989.

 

            Mandela served 27 years in prison, mostly on Robben Island (in sight of President de Klerk’s home), before being released by President de Klerk in 1990.  After his release from prison, Mandela was elected Deputy President of the African National Congress; he and de Klerk were both awarded Nobel Peace Prizes in 1993.  In 1994, the African Parliament voted Mandela President of South Africa after the ANC received 62 per cent of the vote.   Mandela established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights abuses and to foster a coalition government.  Mandela spearheaded the move to return South Africa to full democracy and to heal the wounds caused by apartheid. 

            Mandela stepped down after one term as President to focus on his charitable foundations; he married for the third time at age 80.  The Mandelas lived in Johannesburg until his death in 2013.

Portrait of Nelson Mandela.
Mandela, Nelson. 24" x 30". 2014. Collection of the artist. Montreal, Canada.

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