How Nelson Mandela Become President Of South Africa
The story of how Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa is one of hardship and perseverance. Imprisoned from 1962 to 1990, the political activist served as president of South Africa and president of the country’s congress. His ascendancy to his nation’s highest office embodies South African’s struggle against apartheid.
Mandela, who achieved a law degree in 1942, began his political career in 1950. His trip to becoming South Africa’s president was thus 44 years in the making. Throughout the decade, he worked tirelessly against apartheid, segregation and racism in South Africa. In 1952, Mandela was elected deputy president of the African National Congress (ANC). As an elected official, he fought to bureaucratically eradicate apartheid.
Accused of treason and put on trial by the Dutch-descended Afrikaans majority—a crime for which he was acquitted—Mandela helped found a militarized branch of the ANC to combat violence against black Africans. In 1962, while planning a series of bombings against sites representative of oppression, the future president was arrested on a tip from the CIA. Sentenced to five years hard labor, Mandela began serving his sentence.
In 1963, several other militarized ANC leaders were arrested. With them, Mandela stood trial again, this time for colluding to overthrow the government. Found guilty, all parties were sentenced to life in prison. Mandela’s statement from the dock became an international media sensation: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal 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.” This fierce refusal to let equality slip through his fingers was instrumental in Mandela’s becoming South African’s president.
Mandela remained politically active while in prison. The activist was offered freedom in exchange for the renunciation of his position. He refused the offer many times over. Over the next two decades, the freedom fighter gained an international reputation as South Africa’s most important black leader and anti-apartheid advocate.
In 1985, after 23 years of imprisonment, Mandela began a dialogue with South African Minister of Justice Kobie Coetsee. Via letters, the two exchanged ideas on bringing apartheid to an end. The pair first met when Mandela was permitted to leave prison to undergo surgery.
Under internal and international pressure, the Afrikaans government released Mandela from prison in 1990. The newly freed idealist was immediately appointed president of the ANC and thus began his path to South African presidency. Mandela’s first order of business was to call a cessation of all violence on the part of the congress.
Four years of tireless activism finally brought apartheid to an end. The Afrikaans government relented to public opinion, allowing free presidential elections for the first time in 1994. Nelson Mandela, president of the African National Congress and recipient of the 1993 Nobel Prize for Peace, won the election, becoming South Africa's first black, freely elected president.
Accused of being a terrorist by his government, Nelson Mandela is one of the 20th Century's great freedom fighters. His actions led directly to the democratization and freedom of his country. Years of tireless struggle and perseverance helped Mandela become president of South Africa.