Last Updated 24 Mar 2017

Nelson Mandela’s Fight for Freedom

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Imagine yourself growing up in a country where you might get thrown in jail for drinking from the wrong water fountain; where just because of your skin color, you get paid less money than your neighbor who has the same job; where you can’t even walk on the same sidewalk just because of the pigment in your skin. For Nelson Mandela, this situation was a reality. This style of living began in 1948 and, thanks to Mandela, ended in 1994. Problems began when the National Party---dominated by Afrikaans-speaking descendants of the Dutch settlers—came to power in South Africa.

Segregation and mistreatment of the less superior—non-whites--became a government policy called “apartheid,” which means “apartness” in the Afrikaans language. Nelson Mandela refused to bow down to the unjust of the government. Instead, he became one of the most important warriors in the battle to free South Africa. “We are at the beginning of an arduous and protracted struggle for a better quality of life. In the course of this struggle, we shall have immediate success; we shall have setbacks; but we shall certainly progress, inch by inch, towards our goal,” Nelson Mandela wrote in his book, In His Own Words.

Most of Mandela’s life was filled with many battles, tribulations, and hardships. Born on July 18th, 1918 in Umtata, South Africa, Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela studied to become a lawyer. He then joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944. The ANC formed in 1912. It is a multiracial, nationalist organization that intended to extend voting rights to everyone in South Africa. This organization was also aiming to end racial discrimination. Even after thirty years of peaceful petitions to the government, the ANC never achieved any concessions. During the apartheid, blacks and whites had different laws that they were to follow.

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Blacks were not allowed to vote in parliamentary areas, for example, and they were limited in their use of most public places and institutions. Under apartheid, Africans, Europeans, and Indians all lived in separate homelands called “Bantustans. ” While selected jobs were saved for whites, the leaders justified their rulings by guaranteeing that Africans would have full rights in their Bantustans. These full rights would grant Africans to have the poorest homes, schools, and hospitals. A majority of Africans disliked this system of apartheid. This also included Nelson Mandela.

Protests were led by multiple leaders including Mandela. Some protests even ended deadly. For example, on March 21, 1960, an organization called, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), called for a protest against the laws. In Sharpeville, a crowd of unarmed petitioners surrounded the police station. The police opened fire in the crowd and killed sixty-nine people, while wounding many more. The government was fighting back; not even caring that the laws that they issued, and the consequences that were given for not following the laws, may or may not be proper.

Protestors could also be arrested. For instance, after the South African government declared a State of Emergency, the ANC was banned. This meant that its members could be arrested and imprisoned for up to ten years. However, these activists were willing to accept the idea of imprisonment or even death, for equality was the only thing that was on their minds. Though Nelson Mandela was eventually forced to take action when the government banned the African National Congress (ANC), he remained non-violent. Mandela’s method of fighting back was a powerful weapon: his speeches and protests.

He had a strong belief that all people, no matter what race, were equal. “South Africa belongs to all people, not to one group, be it black or white. ” Because Mandela was so dedicated to his belief in equality, he had to pay a high price: his freedom. Mandela and his fellow leaders believed that not only should they continue to fight against apartheid, but that they should take up arms against the government. Mandela alleged that there were only two choices to make: surrender, or fight. On August 5, 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested. He was disguised as a white friend’s chauffer.

At this point in time, the government was arresting all black leaders that took part in the Anti- Apartheid movement. So, in an attempt to avoid being arrested, Mandela was forced to live apart from his family. He moved from place to place to avoid being detected by government informers and spies. Usually during important events, like rallies, he would often disguise himself as a chauffer or a gardener. Mandela was nicknamed, “the Black Pimpernel,” because he was so he was so successful at dodging the police. However, he was not successful enough.

After being arrested, Mandela was charged with inciting strikes and illegally leaving the country. He had often traveled to countries in North and West Africa to gain support. He also traveled to England where he met politicians. Throughout his trial—the Rivonia Trial---Mandela carried out his own defense. In the end, Mandela was found guilty and sentenced to prison at Robben Island for five years. This jail was bleak, unwelcoming, and depressing. It is about 7. 5 miles off the coast of Cape Town. Robben Island was one of the harshest prisons in South Africa.

The island was bitterly cold in the winter and scorching hot in the summer. Prisoners could only wear short trousers with no shoes. The imprisoned were to sleep on mats that lay out on their cell floor. Mandela’s cell was less than thirty-two square feet. He was confined to it for sixteen hours each day. Even while Mandela was in prison, he still gave hope to the people who carried on the struggle against Apartheid. Mandela was brought to court once more with all of the leaders of the ANC. All were charged with sabotage and attempting to overthrow government offences, which would have resulted in a death sentence.

When Mandela spoke at the trial, he said that a free, ideal society was what he wished to live for and to achieve. “… If needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. ” No matter what the officials did to Mandela, he knew in his heart that no matter what the outcome was, he would indeed be free in the end. The judge sentenced the defendants to life imprisonment. The government anticipated that the prisoners on Robben Island would be forgotten. However, they were proven wrong. The anti- apartheid movement continued and a new movement to free Mandela even occurred. This movement actually went global.

Nelson Mandela became the most famous political prisoner in the world. Leaders such as Desmond Tutu and Steven Biko continued to speak out against apartheid. Some, including Biko, paid with their lives. Some white South Africans even joined the anti-apartheid movement. Over the next months, outraged Africans rioted all over the country. Many were not willing to wait for change. During the 1980’s, the South African government offered to release Nelson Mandela multiple times. Each time the government asked, Mandela refused. In 1982, Mandela was moved from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison which is on the mainland in Cape Town.

In 1985, Mandela was offered freedom on condition that he stopped campaigning for the ANC. Again he refused because he believed that he still was not technically free since the apartheid was still going on. “I cherish my own freedom, but…I will not give any undertaking when you and I, the people, are not free. ” On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years. This day marked the beginning of the end of apartheid. In less than five years after his release, Nelson Mandela was granted the Nobel Peace Prize and was also elected the first African president of South Africa.

In 1994, the apartheid officially ended when Nelson Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa. Today, because of Nelson Mandela’s self -sacrifice, the apartheid has been outlawed. Everyone in South Africa has equal rights and can now live comfortable, productive lives. Many see Mandela as one of the most important people in world history, and one of the strongest warriors. Even after the troubles of the apartheid are long forgotten, Mandela’s personal triumphs will be remembered. “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way.

But I have discovered the secret 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 the view of 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 walk is not yet ended. ” Because of Nelson Mandela and other leaders, laws telling people what jobs they could hold, or where they could live based on the color of their skin were abolished.

In 1997, observers noticed that most South African blacks continued to live in desperate poverty and in terrible conditions. Black schools still lacked basic necessities like books and chalk. Some schools didn’t have any windows. However, for the first time in years, the South African government was trying to correct the problems of racial inequality. It would take large amounts of time and money, but South Africans felt great hope that the deed of creating equality would be fully achieved.

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