Nelson Mandela - Quotes, Biography & Death - HISTORY


Nelson Mandela studied at the University of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand in 1939 and 1943-49, focusing on law.

He soon became active in the anti-apartheid movement, joining the African National Congress in 1942. For twenty years, Mandela directed peaceful, nonviolent acts of defiance against South Africa’s government and its racist policies.

In 1961, he led a three-day national workers’ strike. The following year he was arrested for leading that strike, sentenced to five years in prison. In 1963, he was brought to trial again, along with ten others, sentenced to life imprisonment for political offenses. He was to spend twenty-seven years in prison—from November 1962 to February 1990.

Mandela spent his first eighteen years at the brutal Robben Island Prison, living  those years in a small cell without a bed or plumbing. As a black political prisoner, he received less food than others and was forced to work twice as hard. How did he keep his spirits up?

Listen to his words: “Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed to the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

Many of us with mental health problems have such dark moments. It’s the nature of our condition to have trouble keeping on when life seems unredeemably dark. Oh, to have better mental health!

Other-centeredness—thinking of others when life is hard—can be our saving grace. An other-centered mindset must have been Mandela’s as well. Though he suffered, he never forgot that his people needed him.

When President Botha suffered a stroke and was replaced by F.W. de Klerk, Mandela was released from prison. Mandela immediately urged foreign powers not to reduce their pressure on South Africa’s government for constitutional reform. He declared that the African National Congress would continue its armed struggle until the black majority received the right to vote. (He had by 1961 abandoned nonviolent protest, considering it ineffective.)

In 1993, Mandela and President de Klerk jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize for their work toward dismantling apartheid. On April 27, 1994, Mandela became the first black president in an election that for the first time allowed South Africans of all ethnic origins to vote.

A thought: What must it have been like for Mandela to be up against the incredibly difficult work of reconciling the white and black populace after all the torture and horrible atrocities?

Have you ever had a huge problem to fix and found it beyond you? Did you ever come up short and realize accomplishing this was impossible? I wonder if Mandela ever felt like that about his fight against apartheid? How about those years in that tiny prison cell without a bed or plumbing? He must have had his moments, but in the end he said this:

“Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.”

Do you have that kind of hope?

This was Part 13 of the series A Voice of One Calling. Next: Mandela’s Forgiveness and Reconciliation