Nelson Mandela was a South African activist and politician who led the anti-apartheid movements and who, after a long struggle and 27 years in prison, presided over the first government to put an end to the racist regime in 1994. The 20th century left two world wars, the death camps and atomic terror, but also great champions of the fight against injustice, such as Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King. The last of them was Nelson Mandela.
Both Walter Sisulu and the countless people who had contact with Mandela throughout his life coincide in pointing out his extraordinary personality. The power of seduction, self-confidence, work capacity, courage and integrity are among the virtues for which he shone wherever he went. Sisulu immediately captured his innate leadership gifts and brought him into the African National Congress (ANC), a movement to fight the oppression that black South Africans had suffered for decades. Soon his qualities would place him in prominent positions in the organization. In 1944, Mandela was one of the founding leaders of the Congress Youth League, which would become the dominant group in the African National Congress; its ideology was an African socialism: nationalist, anti-racist and anti-imperialist.
In 1948 the National Party came to power in South Africa, institutionalizing racial segregation by creating the apartheid regime. In fact, institutional racism in South Africa dated back to at least 1911, the date of a discriminatory provision that prohibited blacks from holding skilled jobs. Numerous measures enacted in the following decades (thirty-six in total) had already led, to give a single example, to the exclusion of blacks and mestizos from the electoral roll.
Under Gandhi’s inspiration, the African National Congress advocated non-violent methods of struggle: the Congressional Youth League (chaired by Mandela in 1951-1952) organized civil disobedience campaigns against segregation laws. In 1952 Mandela went on to chair the federation of the African National Congress in the South African province of Transvaal, while he led the volunteers who challenged the regime; he had become the de facto leader of the movement.
The crackdown produced 8,000 arrests, including that of Mandela, who was confined in Johannesburg. There he established South Africa’s first black law firm. He had gradually abandoned his Africanist position and adopted the ideology of international humanism that he would uphold throughout his life. In 1955, after serving his sentences, he reappeared in public, promoting the approval of a Freedom Charter, in which the aspiration of a multiracial, egalitarian and democratic State, an agrarian reform and a policy of social justice in the distribution of the wealth.
The 1994 elections made Mandela the first black president of South Africa (1994-1999); From that position he launched a policy of national reconciliation, keeping De Klerk as vice president and trying to attract the wayward Zulu-majority Inkhata party to democratic participation. Mandela initiated the Reconstruction and Development Plan, which allocated large amounts of money to improve the standard of living of black South Africans on issues such as education, housing, health or employment, and also promoted the drafting of a new constitution for the country, which was finally approved by parliament in 1996. A year later he handed over the leadership of the African National Congress to Thabo Mbeki, destined to become his successor in the presidency.