Nelson Mandela Excuse me sir, may I see your pass? These words mean very little to most Americans; however these words struck fear in the hearts of black South Africans during the times of apartheid. While apartheid was being practiced, blacks were restricted in the jobs they could hold, facilities they could use, as well as the places they could be, and all blacks had to carry passes for identification purposes. If the passes were not in order, the carrier was subject to arrest. Through these terrifying times, one man rose above all the rest in the effort to combat this terrible practice of apartheid. This man was Nelson Mandela; a man who was so dedicated to the overthrow of apartheid that he was willing to spend twenty-seven years of his live in prison for the cause.
Mandela’s rise to the South African presidency, after his release is well documented, but in order to truly understand Mandela, one must examine his life before his prison term, and rise to the presidency. When analyzing Mandela’s life from this point of view, several questions come to the forefront. First of all, what was the extent of the apartheid laws which Mandela and the people of South Africa were facing? Secondly, what tactics did Mandela use to combat this practice of apartheid? Thirdly, what factors played a motivating force in the life of Mandela? And finally, what impact does the life of Nelson Mandela have on the rest of the world? After carefully answering each of these questions, one can easily see that Nelson Mandela was a man shaped by apartheid into a staunch nationalist that served as an example for his people and the world. In understanding Mandela as a nationalist, one must first have an idea of the brutal laws which he faced and dedicated his life to overthrowing. Apartheid was the policy being used to repress the blacks at the time of Mandela. Encyclopedia of Britannica describes apartheid as, policy that governed relations between South Africa’s white minority and nonwhite majority and sanctioned racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against nonwhites (Britannica web).
It is important to note that racial discrimination existed in South Africa since Europeans first came there, however the policy of apartheid was not instituted until after the victory of the National Party in the election of 1948 (Britannica web). Once the National Party gained power, they began their movement towards apartheid in 1950 with the Population Registration Act (Britannica web). With the passing of the act, all South Africans were forced to classify themselves into one of three racial groups: Bantu (black South Africans), Coloured (of mixed dissent), and white (Britannica web). A fourth group to include Asian inhabitants was a later addition to the act (Britannica web). This demeaning Population Registration Act was the foundation for all of the brutal apartheid laws that were yet to come from the National Party. Once the National Party had all South Africans placed into categories based on their race, they preceded to enact one policy that was particularly devastating to blacks.
The name of this policy was the Group Areas Act of 1950. Before discussing the impact of this act, it is important to understand the extent of the majority the blacks had over the whites. Black residents numbered 31.5 million people, Colorued were 3.3 million, Asian 1.2 million, and the whites had only 5.4 million inhabitants (Geocities web). Now the purpose of the Group Areas Act was to prevent members of certain races from having land, houses, or businesses in particular areas of the country (Britannica web). As a result of this act, the small minority of white citizens was allotted over 80% of South Africa’s land (Britannica web).
By analyzing the numbers presented, it is not difficult to see how this act had a devastating effect on black South Africans. Blacks represent approximately 75% of the population, yet are only able to use less than 20% of the land. As one could imagine, it would be hard for anyone to prosper under those conditions. Besides the Population Registration Act, and the Group Areas Act many other acts were passed to ensure the segregation between blacks and whites. Two acts in particular demonstrate that the ideas of the National Party were already in practice before they took power.
These acts, very similar to the Group Areas Act of 1950, were the Natives Land Acts of 1913 and 1936 (Geocities web). The result of these acts was the large black majority being restricted to only 13% of the land in South Africa (Geocities web). To ensure that blacks would not move into white area, the government instituted pass laws (Britannica web). These laws forced blacks to carry documentation at all times, and these documents would show the authorities in which areas these people could travel (Britannica web). From these laws, one can easily see how the white government of South Africa used any means at their disposal to demean and keep blacks at an economic disadvantage.
With this understanding, one can imagine how these policies could spawn the nationalist ideals of Nelson Mandela. After gaining an understanding of the laws Mandela was in opposition to, one must next look at the tactics he used to combat apartheid in order to truly understand him as a nationalist. The first time Mandela delved into anything that could be considered nationalist was when he joined the ANC (African National Congress web). The ANC was established in 1912 as a non-violent organization to combat the repression of black South Africans (Mandela xi). In 1944 Mandela joined the Youth League of the ANC, and the nationalist implications of the maneuver will be discussed later in the paper (Mandela xi).
As far as ideology is concerned the ANC believed in using non-violent civil disobedience, which consisted of strikes and protests, and avoided taking lives at all costs (Mandela xi). According to one source the ANC saw, passive resistance was the only way to combat the heavily armed, violent state (Benson 43). By his involvement in these organizations one can easily see the efforts of a beginning nationalist in Mandela. By 1952 Mandela’s respect as a nationalist led to him being named the leader of the ANC’s Defiance Campaign (xi). The Defiance Campaign stressed the type of non-violent resistance, which was the foundation of the ANC. Although the movement was passive, the masses were involved, and Mandela alludes in his autobiography when he writes, Doctors, factory workers, lawyers, teachers, students, ministers, defied the law and went to jail (115).
The role of the masses in this nationalist movement headed by Mandela was also obvious in the fact that 8,500 people went to jail during this campaign (115). The fact that Mandela led this grass roots campaign to gain more freedom for his people, serves as an excellent example of Mandela’s nationalist tactics. After the Defiance Campaign, and incident occurred on March 21, 1960 that would shape many of the nationalist tactics Mandela would use up until the time he was sent to prison. On this day, a group of blacks were peacefully protesting anti-pass laws in a region known as Sharpeville (Mandela xii). In response to the demonstration, South African officials fired on the protestors, and, in fact, killing many of the people (xii).
The incident was labeled the Sharpeville Massacre, and because of it the National party called for a state of emergency, in which the ANC was banned (xii). With the banning of the ANC Mandela’s and the other members of the ANC were forced to take their efforts underground (xii). The banning of the ANC, led to new nationalist philosophies within the group. These new philosophies are evident in a quote from Mandela, when he says, When some of us discussed this in May and June of 1961, it could not be denied that our policy to achieve a non-racial State by non-violence had achieved nothing (Mandela 22). This quote shows that Mandela and fellow members of the ANC new something new needed to be done within the ANC.
What Mandela and other nationalist leaders decided to do was to form a military faction of the ANC called the Umkanto Sizwe (24). Mandela lets readers know this was the last option when he writes, We did so not because we desired such a course, but solely because the government had left us with no other choice (24). The nationalist members of the Umkanto decided on sabotage, over guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and all out revolution, as a means to obtain their goals (26). Mandela makes readers aware of why they chose sabotage when he writes, Sabotage did not involve the loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations (26). The main targets of this sabotage were power plants, infrastructure, government buildings, as well as symbols of apartheid (26-27). The efforts of the Umkanto were designed to have a crippling effect on both the government and the economy, and in doing so change the attitudes of South African voters (27).
Mandela was the leader of this group until he was arrested in Natal on August 5, 1962, and sentenced to life in jail (27). By leading and partaking in these efforts to rebel against a repressive government, Mandela once again shows himself as a nationalist. After looking at the brutal effect apartheid had on Mandela and the people of South Africa, as well as the tactics he used to fight this practice, one must delve deeper into Mandela’s life to better understand what shaped his nationalistic ideas. In his own autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela says, I cannot pinpoint a moment when I became politicized, when I knew that I would spend my life in the liberation struggle (83). Mandela goes on to discuss how frustrating it was that he could only hold certain jobs, live in certain areas, ride on certain trains, etc.
(83). Although Mandela says that his attitude of nationalistic political activism was the result of coming face to face every day with the apartheid laws that have already been mentioned, there are some specific motivations that can be seen as particularly influencing his nationalistic feelings. The first major influence on Mandela, which must be discussed, is that of his profession. Because of the fact that Mandela was an attorney, he encountered apartheid in much greater volume than his fellow black South Africans (ANC web site). A quote from Mandela’s partner Oliver Tambo demonstrates how many cases he and Mandela encountered, To reach our desks each morning, Nelson and I ran the gauntlet of patient people overflowing from the chair in the waiting room into the corridors (ANC web site). Even Mandela’s practice was sanctioned through apartheid.
Land segregation acts drove Mandela’s practice from the center of the city, where it was easy to reach black clients, to a rural area, which was difficult for blacks to reach (ANC web site). Dealing with this apartheid in such a great volume had an impact on …