I was not born with the hunger to be free. I was born free- free to run in the fields, free to swim in the stream that ran through my village, free to roast mealies under the stars. As long as I obeyed my father and abided by the customs of my tribe, I was not troubled by the laws of man or God. It was only when I began to realize that my boyhood freedom was an illusion, when I discovered as a young man that my freedom had already been taken from me, that I began to hunger for it. …I slowly saw that it was not just my freedom that was curtailed, but the freedom of everyone who looked like I did. That is when I joined the African National Congress, and that is when the hunger for freedom became the greater hunger for the freedom of my people. (Nelson Mandela, Mandela, An Illustrated Autobiography.)


Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is known as one of the greatest South African reformers and revolutionaries. Mandela led the movement against white supremacy, Apartheid, and after almost three decades in prison, he went on to head the country as the first democratically elected president.

Mandela's Early Life

Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in the Transkei. His life was first affected by white culture in school, when his teacher, on the first day of classes changed his name to Nelson, so he would not stand out so much in white presence. Mandela's father died when he was nine years old, and he was sent to live with the Regent, the equivalent of the king of the Transkei people, to be trained for leadership. While living with the Regent, he saw how the representatives from each division of the Transkei were able to speak for their people's rights, creating his desire for a democratic government.

(Mandela: An Illustrated Biography)



 I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of what I thought, because of my conscious. Can it be any wonder to anybody that such conditions make a man an outlaw of society? "(Nelson Mandela, Mandela, An Illustrated Autobiography.)

Mandela's Role in the Early Anti-Apartheid Movement

Mandela's childhood in the Transkei had sheltered him from racial discrimination. In Johannesburg, however, in the 1930s, he began to look as himself as a black man in a white society. He was first introduced to the rights movement when he met Walter Sisulu, a member of the ANC (African National Congress) who involved Mandela with the committee in 1944. With Sisulu and other activists, Mandela formed the Youth League, a branch of the ANC with more radical approaches to fighting for rights than the ANC had ever used before. His, and all Africans lives were soon to be changed when the African Nationalists Party came to power in 1948 and Apartheid officially began. In 1951, Mandela was elected the president of the ANC and campaigned for the repeal of discriminatory laws. He led anti-apartheid organizations and movements such as the "Umkhonto weSizwe" ("the spear of the nation") and the Defiance Campaign that included nonviolent civil disobedience and underground fighting.


 I have done my duty to my people and to South Africa. I have no doubt that the posterity will pronounce that I was innocent and that the criminals that should have been brought before this court are the members of the government. (Nelson Mandela, Mandela, An Illustrated Autobiography.)


This is a collage of various pictures and quotes from throughout Nelson Mandela's life, many of which involve his trial and fight for freedom.


Milestones of Apartheid

Since the beginnings of imperialism and the Dutch and British presence in South Africa, the native Africans have been treated as second-class citizens in their own land by the white settlers, known as Afrikaners.


~1913 - The Native Land Act was instituted, which prohibited Africans from owning land anywhere in the country except the Transkei.


~1948 &endash; the African Nationalist Party came to power with a campaign promising the white people that there would be a complete separation of the races. They stayed true to their promise by creating what they called Apartheid, laws that required separation of the races in all aspects of life and created a society completely ruled by the Afrikaners. The two major laws of the Apartheid system were the Population Registration Act and the Group Areas Act which divided the country into four regions determined by ethnic group.




~ 1956 - Nelson Mandela, plus 155 other anti-Apartheid activists, were charged with treason during the Treason Trial and were sentenced to five years in prison.


~ 1959 - The Homelands Policy was instituted, creating separate Bantustans (homelands) for the major South African black groups. Although Africans make up three-quarters of the total South African population, the land designated for their new Bantustans was only 13% of the country, and included none of the best farmland or gold and diamond mines. The government's goal in creating these "homelands" was to create semi-independent countries that would attract all native Africans. In addition, every black citizen not living in the Bantustans (and eventually every African citizen,) was required to carry a passbook as identification, limiting their access throughout the country.


~ 1961 - On March 21, in Sharpeville, South Africa, white police officers killed sixty-nine unarmed protesters in front of the Sharpeville police station. This event ignited protests all over South Africa.



~ 1962 - Nelson Mandela was once again arrested and sentenced to another five years of prison, this time for leaving the country against the limits of his passbook, so he could gain support for the ANC from the neighboring countries.



~ 1963 - Mandela and 17 other members of the ANC were arrested and put on trial for high treason in the Rivonia Trial when the underground ANC was raided by the government. Mandela was temporarily released from his last sentence to attend this trial. Due to the amount of times these "criminals" had been arrested, they were all expecting the death penalty. Mandela, refusing to defend himself because he felt so strongly that there was nothing for him to defend, instead made a four-hour long speech, saying what he thought would be the last of his inspirational words to the African community. All 18 were instead sentenced to life in prison. His sentence began on Robben Island, doing intense labor. The latter part of his 27-year sentence was in Pollsmoor Prison, where he was placed in solitary confinement.



Pollsmoor maximum security prison is set amid the strikingly beautiful scenery of the cape, between the mountains of Constantiaberge to the north and hundreds of acres of vineyards to the south a few miles from C.T. But this natural beauty was invisible to us behind Pollsmoor's high concrete walls. At Pollsmoor I first understood the truth of Oscar Wilde's haunting line about the tent of blue that prisoners call the sky. (Nelson Mandela, Mandela, An Illustrated Autobiography.)


….any house in which a man is free is a castle to even the plushest prison. (Nelson Mandela, Mandela, An Illustrated Autobiography.)


~ 1963 - Later that year, the United Nations was pressed by the Organization of African Unity to isolate South Africa and punish those involved with Apartheid.


~ 1973 - the United Nations passed a resolution condemning Apartheid.


~ 1976 - Students in Soweto, South Africa protested because ever South African citizen was now being required to speak the Afrikaans language in secondary schools.

(Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography.)



~ 1977- Anti-Apartheid leader Stephen Biko was arrested and died while he was in police custody. The South African government then proceeded to prohibit all black organizations (including the ANC) from conducting any political activity.



~ 1984 &endash; Mandela refused the offer for his release. This offer came with the conditions that Mandela could no longer associate with the ANC and would have to live in an all-black township. Unwilling to give up his role in the anti-Apartheid movement, he decided to continue his fight from within his prison cell.


~ Mid-1980s - the United Democratic Front was formed in South Africa, which was led by Bishop Desmond Tutu and Reverend Allan Boasek. This organization helped spread the word worldwide about the problem of Apartheid.

(Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography.)


The above picture, is one example of a political party poster displaying many of the hardships that all of the African political faced in their fights against Apartheid. Mandela, as well as being part of, and President of the ANC was also involved with the UDF, which is represented in the poster. (Mandela, Nelson. An Illustrated Autobiography. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1996. Pg. 160.)


~ 1990 - President Fredrick Willem de Klerk released anti-Apartheid activist Nelson Mandela from prison.




~ 1991 &endash; Mandela resumed his role as president of the ANC. The ANC and the Nationalists Party (headed by de Klerk) then made changes to the South African laws, specifically the Apartheid laws. These changes lessened the power given to the Afrikaners.

Mandela's Accomplishments


In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa. From their different points of departure, Mandela and de Klerk have reached agreement on the principles for a transition to a new political order based on the tenet of one man-one vote. By looking ahead to South African reconciliation instead of back at the deep wounds of the past, they have shown personal integrity and great political courage. (Nobel Peace Committee,

"I have fought against white dominancy and I have fought against black dominancy. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunity. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and achieve, but if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." (Nelson Mandela, Biography Channel Special.)


In April of 1994, the first free presidential elections were held in South Africa, and Nelson Mandela and the ANC won with 62% of the popular vote. Since this time, every legal aspect of Apartheid has been abolished in South Africa. Now 83 years of age, Mandela, has accomplished more than he could have dreamed possible, but still sees much more work that still needs to be done.


I have walked that long road to freedom. But I have discovered that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view at the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk has not yet ended. (Nelson Mandela, Mandela, An Illustrated Autobiography)


We watched our children growing without our guidance, I said at Zindzi's wedding, and when we did come out of prison, my children said "We thought we had a father and one day he'd come back. But to our dismay, our father has come back and he has left us alone because he has now become the father of the nation." To be the father of a nation is a great honor, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it is a joy I had far too little of. (Nelson Mandela, Mandela, An Illustrated Autobiography.)


The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step in our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning. (Nelson Mandela, Mandela, An Illustrated Autobiography.)





Secondary Sources

ANC. The Mandela Page. December 2001. (4 Dec. 2001).


Chokshi, Monal and Carter, Cale etal. Computers and the Apartheid Regime in South Africa. December 2001. (3, Jan. 2002).


Journey To Freedom. Nelson Mandela. AE Biography. ABC News Productions. 1996.


Kuper, Hilda, "The Prisons of Apartheid," The Nation. Gale Group, 1999.

Vol. 202, No. 3, January 17, 1966, pages 76-78.


Mandela, Nelson. Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography. New York: Little, Brown and Company. 1996.


"Mandela Is Freed, February 11, 1990." Discovering World History. Gale Research, 1997. November 6, 2001. (12 Jan. 2002).


Meer, Fatima. Higher Than Hope. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.


Nelson Mandela: The Struggle is My Life. New York: Pathfinder Press. 1986.


 Sampson, Anthony. Mandela, The Authorized Biography. New York: Alfred A Knopf, Inc. 1999.


"South Africa Begins a System of Separate Development, June 21, 1951." Discovering World History. Gale Research, 1997. November 7, 2001. (2 Dec. 2001).


Swarns, Rachel L. "South African Museum Recreates Apartheid." December 10, 2001. (12, Jan. 2002).


The Nobel Foundation. Nelson Mandela. June 2001. (10 Dec. 2001).


Unwebi Communications. South African Government Information. December 2001. (12 Jan. 2002).


WGBH Frontline. The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela. 1999. (10 Dec. 2001).




Primary Sources


Mandela, Nelson. Inaugural Address. Speech. Cape Town, South Africa. (30 Nov. 2001).

Nelson's first speech as president of South Africa was this address in Cape Town. He spoke of the things he wanted to accomplish and those which he already did.


Mandela, Nelson. Nelson Mandela's Address to Rally in Cape Town on His Release From Prison. 1990. Nobel e. Museum. November 6, 2001. (8 Dec. 2001).

When Mandela was released from prison, he made a moving speech to the crowds of people who awaited his release. This speech is quoted in this source, showing us his great writing and speaking skills and also giving us a glimpse into the life of a prisoner on Robben Island and Pollsmoor Prison.


Mandela, Nelson. Nobel Lecture. Speech. Oslo, Norway. (8 Dec. 2001).

This source is Nelson Mandela's acception speech at the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony in Oslo, Norway in 1993. In this speech he spoke of the struggles he encountered and the racial oppression he spent his life fighting against.