Why Was Nelson Mandela Imprisoned?

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Madiba, the legendary name affectionately used to revere the first black President of South Africa, is remembered even now with unmatched fondness. Nelson Mandela, born as Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela in 1918, was an activist, a political prisoner, an international peacemaker, and a Nobel laureate among many other things. He fought his battle for peace and equality valiantly till he took his last breath in 2013.

Nelson Mandela or Madiba’s fight was majorly against apartheid, which is racial discrimination practiced in his own home country. Being born to the head of the Tembu tribe in South Africa, Chief Henry Mandela, Madiba was in line to follow in his father’s footsteps and be the next Chief. However, his defiance toward the authorities became obvious when he got himself expelled from the all-black college, Fort Hare, due to his participation in a student boycott. Later, determined as he was, Madiba completed his education in arts and studied law at the University of Witwatersrand.

African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL)

Madiba’s political culture can be traced back to the ANC Youth League (1949), of which he was one of the first members. Though ANC, founded as early as 1910, is one of the oldest political parties in South Africa, the Youth League was branched out later; and Madiba was made the President of it in 1950.

No Iron Bars Could Suppress His Motives

Though the 1962 arrest of Madiba is much talked about, that was not the only time that he was put behind bars. The road to equality was not easy and was marked with several arrests and bans from the Party and the Country. In 1952, Mandela was arrested for organizing ‘œDefiance Campaign’ and was thus banned from the ANC and kept away from all the Party gatherings for five years. In 1956, again an arrest took place with 156 other leaders under the Treason Trial, wherein, as the name suggests, Madiba and others were accused of treason in South Africa.

Sharpeville Massacre

In 1960, after Madiba, along with the other 156 leaders, were found not guilty under the Treason Trial, the government, desperate to suppress the increasing aggression against apartheid, opened fire on the peaceful black protesters in the town of Sharpeville, killing 69 and seriously wounding 180 unarmed civilians. This enraged the anti-apartheid activist, and he decided to use a more radical approach against the repressive government.

‘œSpear of the Nation’

ANC was a nonviolent Party till the Sharpeville Massacre. Madiba, with the unmoving goal to end the almost tyrannical rule, convinced ANC to form a military wing, namely ‘œUmkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation),’ also known as ‘œMK.’ Though, in his own words, this wing did not aim to kill but only to ‘œsabotage against the government,’ soon enough regional units were being erected where bomb making and other such clandestine activities were learned.

Imprisonment for 27 Years

The South African government had banned all the political organizations, including ANC. To avoid the government informers, Madiba disguised himself often. This routine earned him the name of ‘œBlack Pimpernel’ in the media. However, in 1962, upon his return from his military training out of his hometown, the government was tipped off about his whereabouts (allegedly by CIA). Madiba came to be arrested and imprisoned for five years for leaving the country. Behind the bars for five years, he was further sentenced to life, being convicted under the Rivonia Trial for the sabotage carried against the government.

Thus, Madiba spent 27 years imprisoned, found guilty for the sabotage, in the security prison of Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town and finally to Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. Though Madiba was given several opportunities to compromise, he turned down every single one of those and refused to ‘œstep down’ from his political position, mainly because of his fight for equality.

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