Nelson Mandela

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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was the first black-African president of the formally racially segregated South Africa. He died on December 5, 2013.

Early life

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in Mvezo, South Africa, into a branch of the royal family of the Tembu people. The name Rolihlahla means "stirring up trouble"; the name Nelson was given to him by a mission school teacher. In South Africa, Mandela was universally known by his clan name, Madiba.

Mandela spent an idyllic childhood first at his mother's ancestral household at Qunu, and later at the court of Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, his kinsman and regent for the Tembu king. Jongintaba assured Mandela's enrollment in Fort Hare University in the Eastern Cape. But when the young man caught wind of a political marriage Jongintaba was arranging for him, he fled to Johannesburg, where he briefly worked as a watchman. Later, he was signed on as aclerk in a white law firm.[1]


In Johannesburg, Mandela made contact with leaders of South Africa's "freedom" movement including the African National Congress and the Communist Party . His law studies were frequently interrupted by growing involvement in the struggle against the racial injustice.

Mandela originally thought the Communist Party overemphasized class versus racial oppression. In 1944, he and Anton Lembede founded the African National Congress Youth League, which pushed its parent organization toward both a more militant and a more Africanist program. Subsequently, Mandela rose to top leadership in the ANC.

In the elections of 1948, the United Party of Prime Minister Jan Smuts was defeated by a fascist and racist coalition headed by Dr. Daniel Malan. Malan's National Party government took existing racism to a new extreme, introducing the apartheid (apartness) legal framework which eventually turned South Africa into a pariah state. Mandela and the African National Congress began to advocate strikes, direct action and civil disobedience, while at the same time Mandela rethought his willingness to work through multiracial united fronts and with communists.[2]

Conflict with the law

In 1950, Parliament passed the Suppression of Communism Act, followed by the Public Safety Act in 1953. Police now had legal mechanisms to classify people as "statutory communists", jail them for their associations, and ban them from writing and speaking to the public. The Communist Party and the ANC were declared illegal. Mandela was arrested in 1952 and prosecuted for communism along with others. He was given a suspended sentence and a 6 month ban from political activity. He also opened a Johannesburg law firm specializing in social justice cases, in partnership with ANC leader Oliver Tambo in 1953.

In 1955, the ANC initiated the Congress of the People, a gathering of 3000 in Kliptown, near Johannesburg. It brought together the ANC, the South African Indian Congress, the Coloured People's Congress, the Congress of Democrats and the South African Congress of Trade Unions, and produced the Freedom Charter/ which laid out the vision of a multiracial and democratic South Africa and in which the first steps toward socialism could be discerned.

The government reacted by increasing repression. Mandela and many other leading ANC figures were arrested for "high treason". In 1961, all defendants were acquitted.[3]

National tensions

But tensions were heating up as the ANC and also the nationalist Pan African Congress campaigned to end the law requiring all Africans to carry government passes which had to be presented to police on demand. In 1960, police fired on a PAC organized anti-pass demonstration at Sharpeville, killing 69 unarmed people. Mandela hastened to reorganize the ANC with a clandestine component to better resist repression. At this point Mandela, working closely with the South African Communist Party, formed an armed resistance group called Umkhonto we Sizwe, Spear of the Nation or MK. MK bombed a number targets while trying to avoid civilian casualties. Mandela toured Africa rounding up support for the new phase of the struggle.

But Mandela was captured, while traveling in 1962, and sentenced to five years imprisonment. Then in July 1963, police raided Liliesleaf Farm outside Johannesburg and not only rounded up a number of activists but also found documents on MK. The resulting "Rivonia" trial, for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government by violence, led to life sentences for Mandela and others.[4]


The longest part of the sentence was served doing hard labor on chilly, windswept Robben Island off the coast of Capetown. Conditions led to Mandela contracting a tuberculosis infection which left him with damaged lungs for the rest of his life. Mandela quickly established leadership over the heterogeneous group of political prisoners, organizing study groups and general, vocational and political education classes.

Meanwhile Mandela's family, back on the mainland, were undergoing great trials. He had divorced his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, in 1958, and married social worker Winnie Madikezela shortly thereafter.

The struggle in South Africa intensified, especially with the Soweto Rebellion of 1976. The "Free Mandela" campaign took off, stimulated by the journalism of Soweto journalist Percy Qoboza. More prisoners were sent to Robben Island, and Mandela took them under his wing also.

Eventually, the regime, pressured from inside and out, offered release to Mandela if he would renounce violence and split with his communist allies, but he refused these arrangements. Mandela was transferred from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison in Capetown, and in 1988, after a bout with tuberculosis, he was transferred again to Victor Verster prison near Paarl.

In 1989, the new president, Klerk came to the conclusion that the apartheid system could not be sustained. In 1990, de Klerk released Mandela and other remaining prisoners, and legalized the ANC, the Communist Party and all other banned groups.[5]

A "new" South Africa

Receiving a "rapturous reception from the people", Mandela set to work organizing an international campaign aimed at ending the entire apartheid system. In 1991, Mandela was elected president of the ANC in succession to Oliver Tambo.

But violence continued, with bloody confrontations in Kwazulu-Natal and elsewhere between ANC members and members of the Inkatha organization headed by Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Mandela's relations with de Klerk deteriorated, partly because a government sponsored "third force" was inciting the conflicts. Talks between the ANC and the government in 1991 and 1992 took on a sharply combative tone. In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1994, South Africa's first ever democratic, non-racial general election was held, with Mandela as the ANC presidential candidate. Mandela and the ANC triumphed with 62 percent of the vote.[6]


Mandela served as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. His main concerns were to destroy the institutions of apartheid and racial justice, to calm interracial tensions, and to improve the living standards of the mass of his people. In this, he scored notable successes in electrification, housing, labor rights and health care. Of special note is his Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and designed to create closure on the crimes of the apartheid period.

However, Mandela's liberation and election to the presidency came right after the collapse of Soviet and Eastern European socialism. He did not move toward the more radical goals enshrined in the Freedom Charter, such as the nationalization of the mines, the banks and monopolistic industries. Mandela and his advisors felt that international monopoly capital was in too strong a position worldwide for such things to be immediately feasible.[7]

Beyond the presidency

Mandela stepped down after his first term, and was succeeded by Thabo Mbeki. Mandela then devoted himself to both international and national peace and social justice efforts. He set up a number of charitable organizations, and spoke out publicly against injustices and violent acts such as the Iraq war. Mandela spoke openly about the death of his son Magkatho, from AIDS in 2005, in an attempt to win public solidarity for other sufferers.

Fatigued because of his 89 years and because of the health problems caused by his 27 years incarceration, one of Mandela's last public projects was "the Elders", a group of elder statespersons from all over the world who speak out on social justice issues, created in 2007.

Mandela had divorced Winnie Madikizela in 1992, and married Graça Machel, widow of Mozambican President Samora Machel, in 1998.[8]

Proof of Communist Party membership

Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo

Among the evidence of Mandela's Communist Party membership are the official minutes of a secret 1982 SACP meeting at which veteran Party leader John Pule Motshabi explains to the comrades that Mandela has been a (secret) SACP member for two decades;

  • Rowley Israel Arenstein, a lawyer and leading SACP member since the 1930s, said that Mandela was chosen by the SACP to create Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), and Mandela was the SACP’s main instrument in “hijacking” the ANC and marginalizing its longtime leader and president Albert Lithuli, an opponent of the SACP’s program of “liberation” through armed struggle.
  • During the Rivonia Trial (October 1963-June 1964), Bruno Motolo, a black member of SACP, ANC and MK, provided devastating testimony of Mandela’s involvement in all three groups. Despite death threats, he later provided even more details in his memoir, Umkhonto we Sizwe: The Road to the Left;
  • Paul Trewhela, an SACP member who was imprisoned (1964-1967) for his communist activities, and more recently assisted Prof. Ellis in his research in the archives of the Stasi (the KGB’s East German subsidiary), has said: “Mandela was indeed a member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party.”
  • During the Rivonia Trial, more than 10 documents in Mandela’s handwriting were introduced into evidence, totaling hundreds of pages. One, entitled, “How to be a good communist,” stated: “Under communist rule, South Africa will become a land of milk and honey… In our country the struggle of the oppressed masses is led by the South African Communist Party and inspired by its policies.” He also wrote: “The people of South Africa, led by the South African Communist Party, will destroy capitalist society and build in its place socialism.”
  • Mandela’s Rivonia documents also declared that “traitors and informers should be ruthlessly eliminated,” and he recommended “cutting off their noses” — among other barbarities — a tactic he had adopted from Algeria’s communist FLN terrorists and which he put into practice by MK;
  • Mandela did not deny writing the damning material, but merely attempted to explain it away by claiming they were notes he had taken down for study purposes;
  • A Rivonia trial surprise witness was Gerard Ludi, a top SACP member who was actually an infiltrator, Agent Q-018, for the Special Branch of the South African Police. Ludi provided detailed incriminatory evidence on the SACP’s leadership and illegal activities. He identified Mandela as “a top man in the central committee of the underground communist party.” Subsequent revelations have proven the reliability of Ludi’s testimony.
  • Nelson Mandela and Joe Slovo, In the category of a picture being worth a thousand words, one of the most striking images of Mandela is of him standing beneath a giant Communist hammer and sickle symbol , side-by-side with Joe Slovo, top leader of the SACP — with both men delivering the communist clenched fist salute. Mandela declared: “I salute the South African Communist Party for its sterling contribution to the struggle for democracy.” It is worthy of note that this occurred not once, but many times, as Mandela and Slovo toured South Africa;
  • Comrade Slovo, a Lithuanian-born Communist and a colonel in the Soviet KGB, was for decades one of Mandela’s closest associates in the SACP, ANC, and MK;

• Slovo himself stated, in his 1986 propaganda article, "The Sabotage Campaign": “To constitute the High Command [of Umkhonto we Sizwe] the ANC appointed Mandela and the Party appointed me.” Since Mandela was himself a secret top member of the Party, this constitutes a admission that the SACP appointed and thereby controlled MK from the start.

Nelson Mandela was not only a SACP member, but a top Communist at that, a member of the ruling Central Committee. And not only that, but he was selected by his fellow top Communists to be the key communist who would launch the Kremlin-approved, Soviet-backed terror war against the South African government.[9]

Positive proof

From the South African Communist Party's Umsebenzi Online, Volume 12, No. 42, 6 December 2013;

Last night the millions of the people of South Africa, majority of whom the working class and poor, and the billions of the rest of the people the world over, lost a true revolutionary, President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Tata Madiba.

The South African Communist Party (SACP) joins the people of South Africa and the world in expressing its most sincere condolences to Ms Graca Machel and the entire Mandela family on the loss of what President Zuma correctly described as South Africa's greatest son, Comrade Mandela. We also wish to use this opportunity to express our solidarity with the African National Congress, an organisation that produced him and that he also served with distinction, as well as all his colleagues and comrades in our broader liberation movement. As Tata Madiba said: “It is not the kings and generals that make history but the masses of the people, the workers, the peasants…”
The passing away of Cde Mandela marks an end to the life of one of the greatest revolutionaries of the 20th century, who fought for freedom and against all forms of oppression in both their countries and globally. As part of the masses that make history, Cde Mandela’s contribution in the struggle for freedom was located and steeled in the collective membership and leadership of our revolutionary national liberation movement as led by the ANC – for he was not an island. In Cde Mandela we had a brave and courageous soldier, patriot and internationalist who, to borrow from Che Guevara, was a true revolutionary guided by great feelings of love for his people, an outstanding feature of all genuine people’s revolutionaries.
At his arrest in August 1962, Nelson Mandela was not only a member of the then underground South African Communist Party, but was also a member of our Party’s Central Committee. To us as South African communists, Cde Mandela shall forever symbolise the monumental contribution of the SACP in our liberation struggle. The contribution of communists in the struggle to achieve the South African freedom has very few parallels in the history of our country. After his release from prison in 1990, Cde Madiba became a great and close friend of the communists till his last days.

International Association of Democratic Lawyers

Mandela is the President Emeritus of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.[10]

The Black Scholar

Mandela was a contributor to The Black Scholar.[11]

African National Congress

As at 20 December 2007, Nelson Mandela was listed as an Ex-Officio Member on the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress. The African National Congress is South Africa's current ruling party and has been since April 1994 when the government became a non-racial democracy. The ANC is supported by its tripartite alliance with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).[12]

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