MADIBA’S Life – As we celebrate July 18

I thought we should acknowledge this important day in our South African calender by refreshing our memories on Madiba’s extraordinary life. I have done this in six bite-size chunks.

Character, Comrade, Leader, Prisoner, Negotiator, Statesman.

Hope you enjoy the read

Steuart Pennington

MADIBA – A six part review.

July 18th is a global celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life and the legacy he left for mankind.

We are urged to take 67 minutes ‘time-out’ to do something to commemorate his life and make a small difference.

Some argue we have ‘lost the plot’ – that Mandela’s life deserves much more than 67 minutes of ‘doing good’ once a year.

I wonder what the great man himself would have thought.

In the only face-to-face meeting I had with him (1992 at Lanseria Airport – he was off to confer degrees at the University of the North, I was off to the bush – we chatted over a toasted sandwich!) the impression I have is that he would be deeply pleased, and humbled, by the fact that the world’s people were honouring him, no matter by how much or how little.

My contribution below is to briefly describe the six passages of his life as is described by the Mandela Exhibition at the Apartheid Museum



For some years now the Apartheid Museum has featured an exhibition on the life of our first democratic President, Nelson Rolinhlahla Mandela.

This exhibition is divided into six periods of his life (as above)

1.     The circumstances that contributed to his Character

2.     What shaped his becoming a Comrade

3.     How he emerged as a Leader of both the ANCYL and the ANC

4.     His time as a Prisoner

5.     He ability as a Negotiator

6.     His contribution as President

I would suggest that relatively few South Africans have visited this exhibition (also available at the Capture Site near Howick on the R103)

I will try and juxtapose some of the global and South African events that inevitably played a role, but that, sometimes oddly, were not seen as important or influential.


Nelson            Slave Name (he was given this name by a teacher on his first day at school who found it difficult to pronounce Rolinhlahla – for many years black people gave their children English middle names for ease of pronunciation and retention by their ‘masters’. This became coined as the ‘slave name’ and is a practice that continues to this day. Thankfully first name use is now much more the practice).

Rolinhlahla     Means “Pulling branch of tree, disturbs the established order”

Mandela         Birth name given to Grandfather

Dalihunga       Circumcision name, means ‘founder of Parliament’

Madiba           Clan name, reconciler, filler of ditches

Born in 1918 on the 18th of July In Mvezo Thembuland

·    Father Gadla  Henry Mpakanyiswa  Mandela Chief of Mvezo. He had  4 wives and 13 children

·       Mother Nosekeni Fanny Mandela, the 3rd  wife

1880    Smuts born in 1880

1853    Qualified franchise in Cape for blacks introduced. In 1885 after 100 year war between Xhosa and British Thembuland annexed as part of the Cape Colony.

1902    End of Boer War -Treaty of Vereeniging – qualified franchise for blacks removed as part of the peace negotiations and the incorporation of the OFS and Transvaal Republics into the 1910 Union of South Africa.

Father Gadla Henry Mpakanyiswa Mandela clashed with local magistrate over oxen (trumped up as a land issue), he argued that he did not answer to British authority, he was stripped of everything, wives dispersed, Nosekeni Fanny settled in Qunu.  Madiba saw his father once a month.

1913    Bantu Land Act implemented, 87% of land zones for whites.

1913    Mahatma Gandi leads Indian Sugar strike.

In 1920’s Qunu life typical of migrant labour dispensation.  School uniform his father’s cut down suit.  At 12 his father died (1930). Madiba loved to listen to stories of Chiefs Makana and Magoma standing against colonialism, both sent to Robben Island

1922    Miners strike over black labour quota’s on the mines. Chamber of Mines wanted to increase quota from 1:8 to 1:22. General Smuts calls in army, over 200 miners killed.

Smuts loses next election over ‘race’ issue.

Whites paid 18s per shift Blacks 40s per month

1923    Urban Areas Act introduced to enable native locations. Slums explode in urban areas.

1926    Colour Bar Act introduced to ban blacks from practising skilled trades.

1927    Native Administration Act introduced which made the British Crown, rather than the Paramount Chiefs, the supreme authority in black areas.

His father, now striped of his title, wished Madiba to be raised by the Regent of Thembuland Jongintaba David Mtivava and his wife NoEngland Mtivava.  Jongintaba had a great influence as he presided over the Amaphakhati, teaching consensus decision making and tensions between traditional and modern society.

Madiba shared a room with Justice, Regent’s son, at 16 he was cirucumcised.  At the time he lamented ‘the ritual promises of manhood, which will never be fulfilled, for we are a conquered people.’

1936    Native voters struck from role in the Cape Schooling After initiation sent to Clarkebury, founded by Thembu King in 19th Century. That is where Madiba first shook hands with a white man, from there to Healdtown.  Dr Arthur Wellington Headmaster. BA Degree at Fort Hare – Met Seretse Kama, Kaiser Matanzima.

While at Fort Hare he is expelled for disagreeing with the University leadership over the process for electing prefects.  At Fort Hare the student body (150 students)) was responsible for electing a six-person SRC.  Shortly before the election the student body met, it was agreed that the student diet be improved and the powers of the SRC be extended. Unless the University Administration agreed the elections would be boycotted. Madiba voted in support. The next day 25 students pitched up to vote, Madiba was elected. He and the other six resigned. The Vice –Chancellor, a Dr. Kerr, then advised that if he insisted upon his resignation he would be expelled. At a subsequent meeting Dr.Kerr advised “you may return to Fort Hare next year, provided you join the SRC – you have all summer to make up your mind!”

Madiba felt he could not compromise. He left Fort Hare at the end of his second year. The Regent was furious.

Early in the new year the Regent arranged marriages for Madiba and Justice with immediate effect. The Regent agrees to pay lobola on Madiba’s behalf. Justice and Madiba, both unhappy with this, resolved to run away to Johannesburg in 1941.

At a stroke Madiba had abandoned his prospects of becoming a powerful local leader – and had destroyed his future – or so it seemed – Johannesburg beckoned.


It is often said that we are products of our up-bringing, some will have it that we are “victims” of our youth.  Madiba grew up in a strange combination of traditional Xhosa life, antagonism to colonial rule, increasing legislative isolation of blacks, the rejection of white authority, but a deep respect for the Church and the British ‘way’.

It is almost paradoxical that in his early twenties he rejected simultaneously the authority of the administrators at Fort Hare and the authority of the Regent’s traditional dictates.

When he set off for Johannesburg politics was not uppermost in his mind, it was independence from tribal traditions and a “new” urban life that had exciting appeal.

He was ‘penniless’.

Nevertheless, many of the characteristics for which he became so well known, and so highly respected, were formed in those early days.

In my view the fact that Madiba always displayed a gentle respect for human dignity while at the same time being a man of unwavering principle is as much a tribute to him as it is to the community in which he grew up.



In this section we deal with the events that forged Madiba becoming a “Comrade” and ultimately becoming President of the ANC.

Johannesburg in the 1940’s was a vibrant and cosmopolitan place.  Blacks were restricted to living in certain parts of the city, as the authorities tried to balance their need for migrant labour with their desire for white domination.  Township life was both vibrant as well as developing a growing political culture.  But it was also precarious, there was no electricity, limited housing and poor water supply.

Madiba’s first job was to guard a mine gate.  The sign read, “Beware, Natives Crossing Here”.  Soon after arriving in Johannesburg Madiba met Walter Sisulu who introduced him to the ANC and other young people who were beginning to challenge the policy of white domination.

With Sisulu’s help, Mandela enrolled for a Law degree at Wits and secured a position as a part-time articled clerk with Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman. The 1940’s was a time of turbulent political events which I have summarised below.

1942    Meets Walter Sisulu – articles at Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman. Makes first white friend in Nat Bregman. Lives in Alex – no amenities. Thrown out of bus with Indian friends. Bus driver accused of “carrying a kaffir”.

1943    Bus Boycott over increase in fares succeeds, Madiba experiences the power of civic action.

1943    Attends SACP meeting with Nat Bregman, meets Anton Lembede introduced to philosophy of Africanism

1943    Enrols at Wits, meets Ruth First, George Bizos, Harold Holpe, J N Singh, Ismail Meer, Harry Shwartz.

1944    Marries Evelyn Mase.  4 Children.  Very disciplined, jogs every morning, makes family breakfast.

1944    ANC Youth League launched. Lembede president, Tambo Secretary, Sisulu Treasurer. Full time at Wits living off Evelyn salary.

1946    SA Indian Congress lauched the Passive Resistance Campaign in protest against the restrictive property rights of Indians, based on Gandi’s

1948    Nats win DF Malan

1950    SACP Banned, Jan Smuts dies

1953    Bantu Education Act

1952    SA Liberal Party formed

1913    Peaceful protest campaign

1947    Lembede dies, succeeded by Peter Mda

1948    ‘Apartheid’ officially launched as General Smuts loses the election to the Nationalist Party. DF Malan sets about passing a range of laws to ensure the separation of races in all aspects of social life and specifically to control the movement and economic activity of blacks.

“Afrikaners face a new trek – to the city. There black and white compete in the same labour market. The task is to make SA a white man’s land” DF Malan.

1950    Communist May Day strike (which was opposed by Mandela) results in banning of SACP, but Police brutality in the crushing of the strike shocks him.

1950     Hendrik Verwoerd appointed Minister of Native Affairs.

Oliver Tambo laments, “Today it is the Communist Party that is banned. To-morrow it will be our trade unions, our Indian Congress, our African People’s Organisation, our African National Congress.”

1951    ANC meets in congress, launches the Defiance campaign to defy apartheid laws, in partnership with the SA Indian Congress.

1951    Coloured Voters removed from the Voters Role by DF Malan

1952    Madiba joins up with Coloureds and Asians in SACP

1952    Urban Areas Act passed, pass laws

1952    Defiance Campaign (Pass Laws) transformed the ANC from an elite group to a mass movement. Membership grew from 7000 to close on 100,000. Madiba serves a six month ban for his role in the Campaign. From then on never free from the attention of the Special Branch.

This marked a decisive shift in Madiba’s definition of a comrade. This was further broadened when the non-racial Congress Alliance and the Freedom Charter were launched in 1955.

1952    Opens law offices, becomes affluent, has a keen sense of dress. Most often wore a three-piece suit. Used the same tailor as Ernest Oppenheimer.

1952    Becomes President of the Transvaal Branch on the ANC. Draws up a new plan for political action, advocating a radical departure from the methods previously adopted by the ANC. Becomes known as the ‘M Plan’. ANC split into cells at street level, zones and wards at township level to facilitate improved communication.

1952    Chief Luthuli summoned to Pretoria and given an ultimatum: either resign from the ANC or lose your chieftaincy. Luthuli refused and was dismissed as chief.

1953    Verwoerd decides to remove black education from the Mission Churches (90% of black schools were in the hands of the Church, only half of black going school children attended school) “People who believe in equality are not desirable as teachers of Natives – what is the use of teaching a Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice”.

1953    Bantu Education Act introduced, church missions given the choice of turning their schools over to government or continuing them as private schools with diminishing subsidies. Control of schools remained with the department of Native Affairs. “Natives are to be taught from childhood that equality with Europeans is not for them”.

1955    ANC under Chief Luthuli calls for a ban on schools, Verwoerd threatens to ban school children who participate from schooling – for life.

1955    Sophiatown is the first in a series of forced removals.

Madiba increasingly radicalised by the growing Apartheid ideology and practice.

White opposition politics in the form of the Liberal Party and the Congress of Democrats begins to start connecting with the ANC with many difficult ideological arguments and debate.


With the increasing restrictions placed on blacks by the Apartheid Government the stage was set for a showdown between an aggressive form of white rule and the rising political consciousness of urban blacks and their allies.  In the early days the ANC was made up of largely educated, middle-aged African men, who believed that the struggle for change should be carried out with dignity.  Their protests were largely comprised of letters, petitions and appeals to those in authority.  With the launch of the ‘M Plan” it seemed inevitable that a more militant approach was in the offing which would increasingly draw on the powers of the masses.


The third has to do with his transformation from a ‘rural boy’ on a journey to discover life in Johannesburg, as a security guard on the mines, to a political activist and a leader.


As I have done previously, I will also try and juxtapose some of the global and South African events that inevitably played a role, but that, sometimes oddly, were not seen as important or influential at the time.

1950  Madiba is elected as President of the ANC Youth League.

1951   In March 1951 President Malan decided to enact the Separate Registration of Voters Bill aimed at removing the Coloureds of the Cape Province from the common voters roll by which they had been entitled to vote since 1853. This precipitated wide reaction from whites  (in the form of the Torch Commando);  the ANC; the Indian community; and the Coloureds themselves.

In reaction Walter Sisulu introduced the idea of a civil disobedience campaign.

Madiba wanted the campaign to be exclusively African. He was out-voted within the ANC.

Thus, a defining moment in Madiba’s political awareness was the Defiance Campaign of 1952. An ultimatum was sent to Malan calling for the repeal of the Suppression of Communism Act, the Group Areas Act, the Separate Registration of Voters Bill, and the Pass Laws. There was the predictable and obvious rebuttal.

The Defiance Campaign was launched on 26 June 1952. Madiba advises, pleads, with all the protestors to respond to violence with non-violence.

On 22 June Madiba addresses 10,000 Africans and Indians – his first ‘mass address’. He finds the process exhilarating. “We can now say the unity between the non-European people in this country has become a living reality.”

Madiba is arrested for the first time. – and is beaten up as he protests the man handling of fellow protesters at the hands of the Police.

As a consequence of the Defiance Campaign the ANC is transformed from an elitist group of intellectual Africans into a mass movement. Membership moves from 7000 to 100,000 in weeks. Abroad, the African ‘cause’ gains recognition for the first time.

1952    Madiba opens his own legal practice, in Chancellor House, with Oliver Tambo (who gave up his teaching post at St.Peter’s Mission School.) Business prospers, he quickly builds up a significant black clientele, buys an Oldsmobile, dresses immaculately, used the same tailor as the Oppenheimers.

1952    Madiba serves a six month ban for his role in the Campaign.

April  1954 the Tranvaal Law Society petitions the Supreme Court to have Madiba struck off the role because of his political activity.

1952    Madiba succeeds  JSB Marks as President of the ANC Transvaal, introduces M-Plan, an attempt, not supported by all ANC Branch leaders, to organise the ANC into an underground movement and promote public violence.

1952    His marriage to Evelyn begins to deteriorate as he throws himself into politics. He has an affair with his secretary.

June 1955 Sophiatown forced removals commence with military trucks and police. Soon afterwards many other multi-racial residential areas are uprooted, District 6 etc. The Group Areas Act is implemented with increasing momentum.

1953    Ban expires. Bantu Education Act introduced by Verwoed

1953    Liberal Party launched by Alan Paton on the ticket ‘equal rights for all civilized people’; opposes any form of passive/public resistance and requires that only ‘parliamentary processes are adopted’. Congress of Democrats and SACP (with many white members) at odds with Liberal Party.

1953    Madiba vents anger on Liberal Party with hard hitting article in the magazine – Liberation.

Soon afterwards Liberal Party changes its stance and stands for universal franchise and extra-parliamentary protest, largely to ingratiate the ANC and align themselves with black leadership.

1955   Madiba joins SACP with Walter Sisulu

1956    Launch of Freedom Charter, Nationalist Government uses this as a pretext to crush the ‘nationalist movement’ by charging its leaders with treason. Madiba arrested for High Treason with 156 others, chosen as their spokesperson. Held in Fort for two weeks, Johannesburg’s main prison, a previous Boer fortress to defend against the British.

Detainees appear in wire cage in the Drill Hall as court hearings proceed. Bail agreed at £250 for Europeans, £100 for Indians , and £50 for Africans and Coloureds.

Madiba’s law practice, with his ongoing detention, falls apart, as does his marriage. Evelyn’s brother, Kaizer Matanzima tries to intervene, with no success. His three children; Thembi, Makgatho and Makaziwe deeply affected.

1956     200 000 women led by Lilian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph march on Pretoria to oppose pass laws being extended to women.

1957    Treason Trial charges dropped for 66 of the accused, but not ANC stalwarts.

1958    At 38 Madiba marries Winnie 16 years his junior. Her parents are Columbus and Gertrude Madikezela, her grandfather a white man.

Treason Trial resumes, focus on Freedom Charter 4000 docs 1000 police raids. Prof Andrew Murray testifies on ‘evils’ of communism. Is completely tied up in cross questioning by Sydney Kentridge.

1959    Progressive Party launched, described by Peter Brown , leader of the Liberal Party “as an all-white party with all-white policy decisions”, formed as a breakaway from ‘left-wing’ Liberals and ‘right-wing’ United Party with the notion of promoting a qualified vote for ‘non-whites’ and working within parliament.  Dr. Jan Steytler, Colin Eglin, Helen Suzman and Ray Swart present. Progs. run into early opposition from the ANC.

1960    Sharpeville – anti pass campaign organised by PAC,  5000 picketers, 300 police 67 people die.  ANC/PAC banned – State of Emergency declared.  Robert Sobukwe arrested.  2000 people detained.  18 000 arrests. Mandela temporarily jailed, lice in prison. Mandela goes underground, begins to form Umkonto we Sizwe, Chief Luthuli receives Nobel Peace Prize

1960    African countries liberated

1961    RSA Republic

1961      B.J.Vorster, Minister of Justice, appoints Hendrik van den Bergh, who had been interned with him during the Second World War, as head of Security Police. He famously quotes ‘To the devil with the rule of law, you can’t fight communism with the Queensbury rules, if you do, you lose’.

1962    Mandela captured in Howick after reporting to Luthuli in Pietermaritzburg regarding the formation of Umkonto and sentenced to five years in prison. Dressed in white coat, pretends to be the black chauffeur to Cecil Williams, a white ANC colleague.

Arrested by a Sergeant Vorster.

As Madiba recounts “When Sergeant Vorster of the Pietermartizburg police stopped me and produced an arrest warrant, I said my name as David Motsamayi.  He nodded and in a very proper way, asked me a few questions.  I parried these without giving him much information.  Sergeant Vorster seemed a bit irritated and then said, “Ag, you’re Nelson Mandela, and this is Cecil Williams, and you are under arrest!”

Madiba brought back as key witness in Rivonia Trial.

1963 JFK Assassinated

1963    July.  Rivonia Trial and famous speech.  “During my life time I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people.  I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination, I have cherished the idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.  But, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

1964 Peter Brown, leader of SA Liberal Party banned for 5 years

1964    June.  Justice de Wet, in a very erudite judgement, avoids the death penalty and hands down life imprisonment.

PART 4: 27 years in Prison – and the will to forgive and to reconcile


In this the 4th Part of our six part series on the life of Madiba we focus on his time in prison. In a way a lot happened during those 27 years, particularly for South Africa. The 60’s and 70’s were boom years, we recording the second highest economic growth rate globally after Japan. And for Madiba those 27 years must have been tortuous with deadly routine, great uncertainty, horrific isolation, steely resolve and courageous optimism being a part of an everyday dull existence.

1964    At age of 46, enters Robben Island. Solitary confinement no liberties.

The Rivonia trialists were kept in individual cells to prevent them from influencing other prisoners, the koeloekoetz as it was known.  Mandela arrived at Robben Island in August 1964, the coldest winter in South Africa for 30 years.  George Bizos recalls, “Mandela arrived wearing a pair of shorts, no socks, rough shoes on the back of bakkie.  I snaked through the two warders and embraced him.  The warders were deeply shocked.  And what did Mandela say?  “George, this place has made me forget my manners.  I haven’t introduced you to my Guard of Honour” and then he proceeded to introduce me to each one by name.

The prison system was based on total control, minimum, terrible food, hard labour in silence in the lime quarry and a code of punishment and manipulation. Staff were exclusively white, an atmosphere of racial hostility was ever present. Martin Meredith writes “White warders regarded themselves as members of a master race, they insisted on being referred to as ‘baas’ and referred to the prisoners as ‘kaffirs, ‘hotnots’ and ‘koelies’”. The daily routine was deadly, most mornings spent in a courtyard cross-legged bashing away with a hammer at piles of stones in front of them and forbidden to talk. After a lunch of boiled maize they were permitted to exercise for half and hour in silence by walking round the courtyard and then send back to work on the stones. Allowed a bath in a seawater shower. Supper was in the cell. The light stayed on all night. On week-ends kept in cells except for a half hour of exercise in silence. No watches allowed. Only one visitor allowed every six months. Only one letter allowed to be written and received over the same period. No study privileges. Solitary confinement often imposed for the slightest misdemeanour. At Christmas time allowed an extra mug of coffee and some sweets.

Madiba elected as spokesman for prisoners. Meets with Red Cross secures an improvement in conditions.

Madiba quotes, “the cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself …. in judging your progress as individuals we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, wealth and standard of education … but internal factors may be more crucial in assessing our development as a human being.  Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others.”

Madiba wakes early every day, runs on the spot for 45 minutes, does 100 finger tip push-ups, 200 sit-ups, 50 deep knee-bends and some shadow boxing. Attends church services every Sunday regardless of denomination.

Robben Island is often referred to as “the University” by former prisoners.  Leaders like Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Harry Gwala were popular and respected Educators, giving courses on a variety of topics.

August 1964 allowed a visit from Winne for half an hour, communicate through a hole in a partition.

1965    Madiba allowed to continue studies for his law degree through London University, persuades authorities to extend the privilege. Persuades other prisoners to learn Afrikaans to ‘understand the mind of the oppressor’.

1967    Madiba starts to run ‘university courses’ for warders.

1967 – Luthuli dies

1968 – Martin Luther King Assassinated

1968    Mother allowed to visit.  She made the long arduous journey from the Transkei with his sister, Mabel and his children, Makgatho and Makaziwe.  He expressed concern to his warders on how thin his mother looked.  Shortly afterwards she died of a heart attack.

1969    Son Thembekile killed in car accident.  His fellow prisoners remember the intensity of his grief.  For weeks Madiba withdrew.  “Then came ‘68 and ’69 when the sky suddenly fell on me.  I lost both Thembi and Ma and I must confess that the order that had reined my soul almost vanished”.  (Letter from prison.)  Another visit from Winnie allowed, not allowed to visit for another year.

1969    Winnie arrested under the Terrorism Act, put into solitary confinement with a toilet bucket a plastic bottle of water and a mug. A single light bulb kept on 24/7. Not allowed to wash. After two weeks interrogated with the intention of forcing her to collaborate. Starts to suffer from malnutrition. After six months in solitary confinement charges brought under Suppression of Communism Act.

1970    Charges against Winnie withdrawn, defence team George Bizos and Arthur Chaskalson. Winnie back in solitary confinement, new charges bought under Terrorism Act. Winnie unable to attend – malnutrition. Defended by Sydney Kentridge, charges withdrawn. After 491 days in prison released and served with 5-year banning order. Winnie, “what brutalised me so much was that I knew what it was to hate”.

1973    Following persistent protests, over the years conditions began to improve.  In 1973 they were given access to hot water for the first time and in 1975 they were permitted to play tennis and cultivate a garden. Madiba quotes, “to plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it and then harvest it offered a simple but enduring satisfaction.”

Madiba meticulously duplicated every letter that he wrote.  Many of these letters never reached their destination.  Madiba quotes from prison, “up to the present moment I do not know where Zeni and Zindzi are and who looks after them.  Every one of the letters I have written to them has not reached them.”

1975    Started writing manuscript of his memoirs in secret. 500 pages are discovered, study privileges withdrawn for four years.

1982    Moved to Pollsmoor with Comrades Sisulu, Mhlaba and Mlangeni.  For the first time in nearly 20 years Madiba was “cut off from the collective”.

1985    After a prostrate operation Madiba moved to the top floor of Pollsmoor and was isolated.  Commonwealth Eminent Persons’ Group visits and find him “isolated and lonely”.

1987    Began to meet with Government.  Moved to cottage in grounds of Victor Verster Prison with own cook, W O Swart.  “I surveyed my new abode and discovered a swimming pool in the backyard and two smaller bedrooms.  I walked outside and admired the trees that shaded the house – I was in a halfway house between prison and freedom”.

1988    Madiba turns 70 – Free Mandela concert in Wembley Stadium.

1990    11 February – Madiba released after 27 years imprisonment.  Two days later, he addresses 120 000 people at Soweto’s FNB Stadium.  On 22nd June Madiba addresses the United Nations General Assembly where he thanked all those who had fought for his release.

1994    Madiba is inaugurated as President of the Republic of South Africa:

“Never, never, never shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world, let freedom reign.  The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement.  God Bless Africa.”

Madiba, among other things, has received honorary degrees from more than 50 international universities worldwide. He also had a nuclear particle (the ‘Mandela particle’), a prehistoric woodpecker (Australopicus Nelsonmandelai) and an orchid (Paravanda Nelson Mandela) named after him.

PART 5: Four years of negotiating our future – some highs, some lows – but never maleficence.


In this the 5th Part of our six part series on the life of Madiba we focus on the difficulty of the negotiation dynamic; his relationship with President F.W de Klerk; the precariousness of the process; and the determination to achieve the end goal.

And for Madiba those four years must have been stressful, what he was attempting to do what had never been done before – a negotiated, peaceful hand-over of political power from a minority to a majority.

The important thing about this ‘chapter’ in his life is that his experience as a negotiator was very limited, after all, he had been in jail for 27 years previous to the process commencing. But almost more importantly, the process did not start with his first meeting with President P.W.Botha. It started five years before his release when, by chance, he met with Minister of Prisons, Kobie Coetsee.

1985    Madiba admitted to Volks hospital in Cape Town for surgery on an enlarged prostate gland.

Minister of Prisons, Kobie Coetzee, who by chance had met Winnie on a plane from Johannesburg to Cape Town (to visit Madiba), decided, on the basis of this encounter, to visit with Madiba.  Coetzee was impressed by Madiba’s dignity. Coetsee hints at talks regarding his release.

1986    The Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, led by General Obasanjo, a former military leader from Nigeria, and Malcolm Fraser, former Australian Prime Minister, start working on a common basis for negotiations between government and the ANC.  President P.W. Botha looks on with acknowledgment, but with reluctance and suspicion.

1986    Declared the “Year of Umkhonto we Sizwe”.  May 1 sees unprecedented strikes around the       country.  On 19 May Botha reacts by ordering air strikes on Lusaka, Harare and Gaborone, claiming them to be ANC bases.

1986    12 June: State of Emergency declared.  Troops moved into the townships.  Defence Minister, Magnus Malan, remarks, “once blacks have toilets they will not want democracy”.  Botha introduces “Third Force” based on book about anti-mafia operations in Italy.

1988    Madiba diagnosed with TB, for first time in 26 years he has Christmas with Winnie, Zindzi and her two children.

1989    Botha suffers another stroke.  Madiba caught up with Winnie’s necklacing comments and the activities of Mandela United, several murders and kangaroo courts.  Her house, “Mansion” is   burned down.  The murders of Lolo Sono, Siboniso Tshabalala and Stompie Seipei finally   ensnare Winnie’s activities.

Negotiations had commenced with difficulty!

1989    July 5 – Madiba meets Botha for tea.  Botha pours the tea.  Madiba requests the release of all political prisoners.  Botha says “no”.

August 14 – Botha resigns and is replaced by F W de Klerk – chosen for his “solid conservative     credentials”.  F W de Klerk acknowledges apartheid to be wrong only because it is    “unworkable”, not “unethical”.

October – Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and four other “life” prisoners released.

December – Mandela meets with de Klerk.

1990    February – Political parties unbanned, State of Emergency partially lifted, media restrictions abolished and some apartheid laws to be repealed.  F.W. announces, “walk through the door and take your place at the negotiating table.  I will unconditionally release Mandela without delay”.

February 11 – Madiba released.  Madiba writes to his Warder of 23 years, “The wonderful hours we spent together during the last two decades end today.  But you will always be in my thoughts”!  Thousands await his release at the prison gates.  Two weeks later meets with Chris Hani, S.A.Communist Party and wins him over, “I think we are going to learn from him that we need to be better South Africans,” says Hani, “to forgive and forget and look forward to building a new South Africa”.

Madiba travels the world.  I meet him at Lanseria on his way to the University of the North to confer degrees, we have breakfast together.

May – Negotiations commence at Groote Schuur, Nationalist Party represented by Afrikaners only.  ANC represented by seven blacks, two whites, one coloured and one Indian.  Madiba  71,   de Klerk 53.

June – State of Emergency lifted.  Inkatha struggle for power dominates.  3000 people killed in KZN in a few years up to 1990.

July – Inkatha Freedom Party launched, riots ensue, tension between Madiba and de Klerk    worsens.  August, 500 people killed.  Mandela raises “Third Force” with de Klerk.

September – Madiba and Buthelezi agree to meet, only meet in January 1991 after 100’s of deaths.  Madiba believes de Klerk is turning a blind eye to the ‘Third Force’ and pursuing a “double agenda”.

1991    March – Inkatha hostel impi attacks Alexandria.  One week later police open fire on an ANC demonstration in Daveyton.  Attitudes between Madiba and de Klerk harden.

July – Government admits to funding Inkatha.

July – Mandela elected President of the ANC (72) to replace ailing Oliver Tambo.  Cyril   Ramaphosa – Secretary General.

December – CODESA commences.  PAC pulls out, “one settler, one bullet”.  Buthelezi does not attend, but IFP delegation present.  Declaration of Intent launched at CODESA – commits to undivided South Africa.  IFP pulls out on basis that “undivided” means federal system ruled out.  On basis of amendment, IFP signs.  In closing speech de Klerk attacks the ANC.  Madiba infuriated, replies and attacks de Klerk’s ‘dishonesty’.

1992    March – after losing Potchefstroom and Bloemfontein by-elections de Klerk calls for a white referendum on the reform process.  85% of white electorate vote “Yes”.

CODESA 2 commences.  May 15 reaches deadlock.  Madiba and de Klerk appeal for calm.  ANC revolutionaries e.g. Ronnie Kasrils urge mass action on June 16 – with success.

June 17 – Boipatong erupts, Inkatha attacks and kills 45 residents, police called in, 3 people shot.  For months violence continues.

July – Madiba issues a list of 14 demands before talks can resume, de Klerk refuses.

August – Madiba marches on Pretoria, supported by 50 000 supporters.  Ramaphosa says,        “today we are at the door of the Union Buildings, next time we will be inside your office”.

September – 70 000 marchers set out from King William’s Town for Bisho, led by Kasrils.  28 marchers are killed.  Roelf Meyer and Cyril Ramaphosa keep talks going.

September 26 – Talks recommence, by Feb 1993 two parties in agreement on way forward.  F.W. de Klerk had backed down on many issues.  Government of National Unity proposed with proportional representation in Cabinet.  In five years this would become simple majority-led government.

1993    April – Chris Hani murdered.  Madiba calls for “calm to honour the memory of Chris Hani by remaining a disciplined force for peace”.

Madiba addresses the Nation a number of times, “I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being.  A white man, full of prejudice has brought our nation to the brink of disaster.  A white Afrikaner woman risked her life so that we may bring the assassin to justice.  Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together ….”.

This event signalled, more than any other, how important Madiba was to our future security.

April – Oliver Tambo dies.  Madiba feels alone.  Negotiation pace quickens. June – Election date agreed, 27 April 1994.  Confidential email circulates in UN Security Council    predicting a civil war in the run up to the election with an estimated 1 000 000 deaths.

In four years of negotiations Madiba had moved South Africa into a Constitutional Democracy based on majority rule.  Writes Martin Meredith, “Underpinning the settlement was the extraordinary stature that Mandela had attained … his exemplary lack of bitterness, his insistence on national reconciliation and his willingness to compromise had earned him enduring respect among his white adversaries.  The white community would not vote for him, but they would accept a government under his command”.

Madiba played the ball and not the man – the hallmark of a good negotiator.

1993    December: Madiba and de Klerk receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

1994    27 April: Twenty million people, South Africans, black and white stand in long queues to cast their vote for freedom.

It is important to understand that while Madiba and de Klerk were the lead negotiators during this time there were many other people and events that formed and integral part of the process – and came close on a number of occasions to derailing the delicacy of the talks.  On both sides there were “forces” that conspired against the process.  It is a tribute to the stature of both these men that despite these conspiratorial forces they remained focused on the importance of reaching a settlement and taking South Africa into a peaceful future.



In this, the final article on the life of our former President Nelson Mandela I deal with his five years as the Head of State. No doubt Madiba was faced with enormously difficult task:

·              a nervous white community and an expectant black community

·              the negotiation of a new constitution

·              the management of a government of national unity

·              the establishment of a new parliament

He will best be remembered for his work in delivering on these four challenges and his work as a reconciler.

But he had other challenges as well:

·              a failing economy with large debt and high inflation

·              fear of a right-wing uprising

·              a crisis of disorderliness, expectation and entitlement amongst the masses

·              a new breed of civil servants baying for the gravy chain

·              HIV/Aids

·              an international community watching and waiting

·              a wife with criminal charges against her

1994    10 May: Tens of thousands of people gather at the Union Buildings in Pretoria to witness the inauguration of Madiba as South Africa’s first democratically elected president.

Addressing the jubilant crowd Madiba states that a new society will be born from the ashes of the past.  “South Africans have won their political freedom, but we are now faced with a new struggle to free people from poverty, inequality, suffering and all forms of discrimination”.

“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.  Let freedom reign.  The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement.  God Bless Africa”.

He faced three main tasks:

·       To establish a working democracy in the country

·       To find ways of building a single nation

·       To ensure that political liberation was matched by social and economic progress

Madiba had to become a trusted Statesman, capable of building the nation.

Achmat Dangor.  A co-prisoner on Robben Island said, “I have rarely seen Madiba jump into things – he thinks things out first.  His strategies are worked out in his mind – and he is willing to adapt them in the face of the reality of the circumstances”.

An example of this was his approach to our Constitution, “try and write a Constitution that is good for South Africa and not just for the ANC” he said to George Bizos.

Throughout his Presidency he exhibited a profound respect for an independent Judiciary and a free press.  An example of this was his preparedness in 1998 to appear in court when Louis Luyt of SA Rugby tried to use the courts to block a government enquiry into allegations of racism in Rugby.

Early on in his Presidency he sets up;

·       Human Rights Commission.

·       Commission for Gender Equity.

·       Office of the Public Protector.

·       Scraps 100 laws governing Press Freedom.

·       Truth and Reconciliation Commission

·       Reconstruction and Development Programme.

To make his commitment to reconciliation clearly visible Madiba visited remote San villages, dusty townships, mosques, synagogues and Dutch Reformed churches.  Madiba also took time out to visit Betsie Verwoerd, the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd as well as former President, PW Botha.

1995    South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup and beat New Zealand in the final.  In one of the defining moments of his Presidency Madiba appeared wearing a Springbok cap and a Number 6 Springbok rugby jersey, the same number as that of the Captain, Francois Pienaar.  The spectators, 95% white, were stunned into silence and then started shouting, “Nel-son, Nel-son, Nel-son!”  One burly spectator who had arrived with the old South African flag was seen to put it down and say, “daar staan my President”. (I was in the UK at the time and watched the game live at Acton East in the company of several thousand Australians and New Zealanders.  Everyone was overcome with emotion… but most of all the South Africans.)

1995    The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established and chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said, “one of Madiba’s lasting gifts to South Africa and the world will surely be the TRC where the victors did not rub salt into the wounds of their vanquished foe but decided to walk the path of forgiveness and reconciliation”.

The TRC took statements from 22 000 victims of apartheid and received applications for amnesty from 7 100 perpetrators.  Amnesty was granted to 1 146 of them.

(To my knowledge the establishment of the TRC was unique to South Africa).

During his Presidency 700 000 houses were delivered to the poorest families free of charge.  There were major successes in the delivery of water and electricity.  Access to schooling improved.  The Social Security System including old age pensions and grants to poor families with small children was massively expanded.

But it wasn’t easy, the legacy of protest politics continued. Out breaks of lawlessness were common place. Students seized teachers as hostages, vandalised buildings and looted shops. Striking policemen set up unlawful roadblocks. Prison warders allowed dangerous prisoners to escape. Taxi drivers organised blockades. Some 200 policemen were killed during 1994.

1995    At the opening of Parliament in 1995 Madiba launched a tirade against workers and students. “let it be clear to all that the battle against forces of anarchy and chaos has been joined. Let no one say you have not been warned… let me make it abundantly clear that the small minority in our midst which wears the mask of anarchy will meet its match in the government we lead”.

“We must rid ourselves of the culture of entitlement”.

Wary of a white right-wing revolt he worked hard at improving relations with General Constant Viljoen.

In the government of national unity he appointed F.W. de Klerk and Mongasutu Buthelezi as hid deputy presidents, but soon manoeuvred them into obscurity.

1996    SA’s constitution is finalised, F.W de Klerk withdraws from the interim government “The ANC is acting more and more as if they no longer need a multiparty government”.

Madiba appoints Winnie as deputy minister for Arts and Culture, it backfires badly.

Later that year he divorces Winnie because of her ‘brazen public conduct and infidelity’.

He donates a third of his salary to his Children’s Fund and lives frugally avoiding the State houses in preference for his Houghton house where his grandchildren live.

On the Economic front growth improved, Government debt was reduced, inflation lowered and the deficit reduced.

On Madiba’s watch the decision to embark on the notorious Arms deal was initiated.

In addition to his work in rebuilding South Africa Madiba came to play an enormous role on the world stage and played an important role in trying to resolve international questions.

Madiba only served one term as President, “you need younger men who can shake and move this country”.

1997    Thabo Mbeki was elected as President of the ANC.

1998    Madiba, at 80, marries Graça Machel.

1999    Madiba hands over the Presidency to Thabo Mbeki


In 2002, three years into President Mbeki’s rule South Africa was on the brink of a meltdown. The Rand exceeded R17 to the US$ and R21 to the £. Many were talking of the ‘Zimbabweanification” of SA, of our becoming a ‘Banana Republic’. There was a flight of capital and our brain drain was at its worst.

Between 2002 and 2007 we enjoyed five years of unprecedented prosperity. In 2008 we were caught by the global recession, but not as badly as others.

So, as we reflect on Madiba’s Presidency and his legacy we have to ponder on what could have been.

We could have faced an unmitigated disaster – the world thought we were going to erupt in a civil war – the US warned of a million dying in the turbulence that was to follow our first democratic election.

It did not happen.

Madiba saw to that.

Madiba: Thank you for your example; thank you for being prepared to forgive; thank you for your patience;  thank you for your five years as our first democratic president; thank you for the legacy you have left us.

Your contribution to the great nation we are destined to become will ‘never, never, and never again’  be forgotten.

God, in His mercy, has His hand on you, and on us.