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Nelson Mandela, African National Congress (ANC), and South Africa

Originally named Rolihlahla Mandela, Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in South Africa. Because his father was a councilor to the Thembu tribal chief, Mandela was expected to be a leader. After his father’s death, he was sent to a boarding school and declined his position with the Thembu tribe. Mandela began at the College of Fort Hare in 1938, where his political interest was first generated. Soon Mandela was expelled from the college, with friend Oliver Tambo, for participating in a demonstration.

Mandela earned his law degree from Witwatersrand University in 1942. Continuing his political career, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC), a political party against racism, in 1944. Also, Mandela, with a group of friends, including Tambo, founded the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League. The ANC Youth League also pushed opposition of the apartheid system, a system of racial segregation of black Africans in South Africa. As an active member of the ANC, Mandela became president in 1952, and was soon arrested, along with 8,500 others, for leading a massive protest of the apartheid system.

Because the apartheid laws grew stricter, more opposition lashed out against the system. In 1960, the South African government enacted a new law that demanded the use of racial identification cards for all South Africans, which generated significant antagonism. Challenging the beliefs of the ANC, the Pan-African Congress (PAC) was formed in 1959. Unlike the ANC, the PAC believed that only black Africans should be permitted in South Africa. Hoping to oust the ANC, the PAC held protests, most notably, the Sharpeville protest, where 69 protesters were killed and 186 were wounded. The Sharpeville protest caused the South African government to ban both the ANC and the PAC. Because of the ban, the ANC had to operate secretly by going underground.

Mandela was later arrested again in 1962 for defying the government. Although the death penalty was almost a given, Mandela was eventually sentenced to life in prison. The media coverage of the trial, all over the world, brought global awareness to the unjust apartheid system. Imprisoned on Robben Island, Mandela had plenty of time to spend enlightening the world about the oppression through his writing. While in prison Mandela formed a new branch of the ANC called the Spear of the Nation. Using more forceful action, the Spear of the Nation attempted to disrupt and overthrow the government.

Mandela was moved to a prison in Cape Town because of a “Free Mandela” campaign that was launched in 1982. Although the South African government offered to free Mandela, he refused because it would have required him to repudiate his actions towards ending apartheid.

The lives of South Africans changed once Frederik de Klerk entered the South African government and the lives of Africans were greatly improved. de Klerk re-acknowledged the ANC, and after 28 years in prison, Mandela was finally released on February 11, 1990. Mandela was elected in 1994, becoming the first black African president of South Africa. Also, Mandela and de Klerk won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their struggle to end the apartheid system in South Africa.

Research by Megan Skochdopole
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School


“Apartheid and Strife in South Africa (Overview).” World History: The Modern Era. 2008. ABC-CLIO. 29 May 2008 .

Andre, Brink. “Leaders & Revolutionaries: Nelson Mandela.” The Time 100. 2003. Time. 23 May 2008 .

“Nelson Mandela.” World History: The Modern Era. 2008. ABC-CLIO. 27 May 2008 .

Davis, Richard. “African National Congress.” MSN Encarta. MSN. 3 Jun 2008 .

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