Nelson Mandela’s greatest pleasure, his most private moment, is watching the sun set with the music of Handel or Tchaikovsky playing.
Locked up in his cell during daylight hours, deprived of music, both these simple pleasures were denied him for decades. With his fellow prisoners, concerts were organised when possible, particularly at Christmas time, where they would sing. Nelson Mandela finds music very uplifting, and takes a keen interest not only in European classical music but also in African choral music and the many talents in South African music. But one voice stands out above all – that of Paul Robeson, whom he describes as our hero.
The years in jail reinforced habits that were already entrenched: the disciplined eating regime of an athlete began in the 1940s, as did the early morning exercise. Still today Nelson Mandela is up by 4.30am, irrespective of how late he has worked the previous evening. By 5am he has begun his exercise routine that lasts at least an hour. Breakfast is by 6.30, when the days newspapers are read. The day s work has begun.
With a standard working day of at least 12 hours, time management is critical and Nelson Mandela is extremely impatient with unpunctuality, regarding it as insulting to those you are dealing with.
When speaking of the extensive travelling he has undertaken since his release from prison, Nelson Mandela says: I was helped when preparing for my release by the biography of Pandit Nehru, who wrote of what happens when you leave jail. My daughter Zinzi says that she grew up without a father, who, when he returned, became a father of the nation. This has placed a great responsibility of my shoulders. And wherever I travel, I immediately begin to miss the familiar – the mine dumps, the colour and smell that is uniquely South African, and, above all, the people. I do not like to be away for any length of time. For me, there is no place like home.
Mandela accepted the Nobel Peace Prize as an accolade to all people who have worked for peace and stood against racism. It was as much an award to his person as it was to the ANC and all South Africa s people. In particular, he regards it as a tribute to the people of Norway who stood against apartheid while many in the world were silent.
We know it was Norway that provided resources for farming; thereby enabling us to grow food; resources for education and vocational training and the provision of accommodation over the years in exile. The reward for all this sacrifice will be the attainment of freedom and democracy in South Africa, in an open society which respects the rights of all individuals. That goal is now in sight, and we have to thank the people and governments of Norway and Sweden for the tremendous role they played.
Breakfast of plain porridge, with fresh fruit and fresh milk.
A favourite is the traditionally prepared meat of a freshly slaughtered sheep, and the delicacy Amarhewu (fermented corn-meal).
A Brief Biographical Note
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in a village near Umtata in the Transkei on the 18 July 1918. His father was the principal councillor to the Acting Paramount Chief of Thembuland. After his father s death, the young Rolihlahla became the Paramount Chief s ward to be groomed to assume high office. However, influenced by the cases that came before the Chief s court, he determined to become a lawyer. Hearing the elders stories of his ancestors valour during the wars of resistance in defence of their fatherland, he dreamed also of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of his people.
After receiving a primary education at a local mission school, Nelson Mandela was sent to Healdtown, a Wesleyan secondary school of some repute where he matriculated. He then enrolled at the University College of Fort Hare for the Bachelor of Arts Degree where he was elected onto the Student’s Representative Council. He was suspended from college for joining in a protest boycott. He went to Johannesburg where he completed his BA by correspondence, took articles of clerkship and commenced study for his LLB. He entered politics in earnest while studying in Johannesburg by joining the African National Congress in 1942.
At the height of the Second World War a small group of young Africans, members of the African National Congress, banded together under the leadership of Anton Lembede. Among them were William Nkomo, Walter Sisulu, Oliver R. Tambo, Ashby P. Mda and Nelson Mandela. Starting out with 60 members, all of whom were residing around the Witwatersrand, these young people set themselves the formidable task of transforming the ANC into a mass movement, deriving its strength and motivation from the unlettered millions of working people in the towns and countryside, the peasants in the rural areas and the professionals.
Their chief contention was that the political tactics of the old guard’ leadership of the ANC, reared in the tradition of constitutionalism and polite petitioning of the government of the day, were proving inadequate to the tasks of national emancipation. In opposition to the old guard’, Lembede and his colleagues espoused a radical African Nationalism grounded in the principle of national self-determination. In September 1944 they came together to found the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL).
Mandela soon impressed his peers by his disciplined work and consistent effort and was elected to the Secretaryship of the Youth League in 1947. By painstaking work, campaigning at the grassroots and through its mouthpiece Inyaniso’ (Truth) the ANCYL was able to canvass support for its policies amongst the ANC membership. At the 1945 annual conference of the ANC, two of the League s leaders, Anton Lembede and Ashby Mda, were elected onto the National Executive Committee (NEC). Two years later another Youth League leader, Oliver R Tambo became a member of the NEC.
Spurred on by the victory of the National Party which won the 1948 all-White elections on the platform of Apartheid, at the 1949 annual conference, the Programme of Action, inspired by the Youth League, which advocated the weapons of boycott, strike, civil disobedience and non-co-operation was accepted as official ANC policy.
The Programme of Action had been drawn up by a sub-committee of the ANCYL composed of David Bopape, Ashby Mda, Nelson Mandela, James Njongwe, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo. To ensure its implementation the membership replaced older leaders with a number of younger men. Walter Sisulu, a founding member of the Youth League was elected Secretary-General. The conservative Dr A.B. Xuma lost the presidency to Dr J.S. Moroka, a man with a reputation for greater militancy. The following year, 1950, Mandela himself was elected to the NEC at national conference.
The ANCYL programme aimed at the attainment of full citizenship, direct parliamentary representation for all South Africans. In policy documents of which Mandela was an important co-author, the ANCYL paid special attention to the redistribution of the land, trade union rights, education and culture. The ANCYL aspired to free and compulsory education for all children, as well as mass education for adults.
When the ANC launched its Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws in 1952, Mandela was elected National Volunteer-in-Chief. The Defiance Campaign was conceived as a mass civil disobedience campaign that would snowball from a core of selected volunteers to involved more and more ordinary people, culminating in mass defiance. Fulfilling his responsibility as Volunteer-in-Chief, Mandela travelled the country organising resistance to discriminatory legislation. Charged and brought to trial for his role in the campaign, the court found that Mandela and his co-accused had consistently advised their followers to adopt a peaceful course of action and to avoid all violence.
For his part in the Defiance Campaign, Mandela was convicted of contravening the Suppression of Communism Act and given a suspended prison sentence. Shortly after the campaign ended, he was also prohibited from attending gatherings and confined to Johannesburg for six months.
During this period of restrictions, Mandela wrote the attorneys admission examination and was admitted to the profession. He opened a practice in Johannesburg, in partnership with Oliver Tambo. In recognition of his outstanding contribution during the Defiance Campaign Mandela had been elected to the presidency of both the Youth League and the Transvaal region of the ANC at the end of 1952, he thus became a deputy president of the ANC itself.
Of their law practice, Oliver Tambo, ANC National Chairman at the time of his death in April 1993, has written:
To reach our desks each morning Nelson and I ran the gauntlet of patient queues of people overflowing from the chairs in the waiting room into the corridors… To be landless (in South Africa) can be a crime, and weekly we interviewed the delegations of peasants who came to tell us how many generations their families had worked a little piece of land from which they were now being ejected… To live in the wrong area can be a crime… Our buff office files carried thousands of these stories and if, when we started our law partnership, we had not been rebels against apartheid, our experiences in our offices would have remedied the deficiency. We had risen to professional status in our community, but every case in court, every visit to the prisons to interview clients, reminded us of the humiliation and suffering burning into our people.
Nor did their professional status earn Mandela and Tambo any personal immunity from the brutal apartheid laws. They fell foul of the land segregation legislation, and the authorities demanded that they move their practice from the city to the back of beyond, as Mandela later put it, miles away from where clients could reach us during working hours. This was tantamount to asking us to abandon our legal practice, to give up the legal service of our people… No attorney worth his salt would easily agree to do that, said Mandela and the partnership resolved to defy the law.
Nor was the government alone in trying to frustrate Mandela s legal practice. On the grounds of his conviction under the Suppression of Communism Act, the Transvaal Law Society petitioned the Supreme Court to strike him off the roll of attorneys. The petition was refused with Mr Justice Ramsbottom finding that Mandela had been moved by a desire to serve his black fellow citizens and nothing he had done showed him to be unworthy to remain in the ranks of an honourable profession.
In 1952 Nelson Mandela was given the responsibility to prepare an organisational plan that would enable the leadership of the movement to maintain dynamic contact with its membership without recourse to public meetings. The objective was to prepare for the contingency of proscription by building up powerful local and regional branches to whom power could be devolved. This was the M-Plan, named after him.
During the early fifties Mandela played an important part in leading the resistance to the Western Areas removals and to the introduction of Bantu Education. He also played a significant role in popularising the Freedom Charter, adopted by the Congress of the People in 1955.
In the late fifties, Mandela s attention turned to the struggles against the exploitation of labour, the pass laws, the nascent Bantustan policy, and the segregation of the open universities. Mandela arrived at the conclusion very early on that the Bantustan policy was a political swindle and an economic absurdity. He predicted, with dismal prescience, that ahead there lay a grim programme of mass evictions, political persecutions, and police terror. On the segregation of the universities, Mandela observed that the friendship and inter-racial harmony that is forged through the admixture and association of various racial groups at the mixed universities constitute a direct threat to the policy of apartheid and baasskap, and that it was to remove that threat that the open universities were being closed to black students.
During the whole of the fifties, Mandela was the victim of various forms of repression. He was banned, arrested and imprisoned. For much of the latter half of the decade, he was one of the accused in the mammoth Treason Trial, at great cost to his legal practice and his political work. After the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, the ANC was outlawed, and Mandela, still on trial, was detained.