This Day in History (11-Feb-1990) – Nelson Mandela is released from Victor Verster Prison near Cape Town, South Africa after 27 years behind bars

In 1944, Nelson Mandela joined African National Congress and led civil disobedience movement of 1952. In 1961 he led the armed struggle with series of explosions in December. In January 1962, he secretly left South Africa and travelled around Africa and visited England to gain support for the armed struggle. He received military training in Morocco and Ethiopia and returned to South Africa in July 1962. He was arrested in a police roadblock and was charged with leaving the country without a permit and inciting workers to strike. He was convicted and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. In October 1963 Nelson Mandela was brought to trial again for sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial. Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison over his calls for a colorblind South Africa. He ended up serving 27 years behind bars.

During this time, he contracted tuberculosis and, as a black political prisoner, received the lowest level of treatment from prison workers. However, he  was able to earn a Bachelor of Law degree through a University of London correspondence program. In 1985, President P.W. Botha offered Mandela’s release in exchange for renouncing armed struggle; the prisoner flatly rejected the offer. With increasing local and international pressure for his release, the government participated in several talks with Mandela over the ensuing years, but no deal was made. When Botha was replaced by Frederik Willem de Klerk, Mandela’s release was finally announced. De Klerk also unbanned the ANC, removed restrictions on political groups and suspended executions.

Hours after his release on Feb. 11, 1990, Mandela vowed to end apartheid (South Africa’s racial policy) once and for all, telling a roaring crowd: “Today, the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our decisive mass action. We have waited too long for our freedom.” Under Mandela’s leadership, apartheid was gradually dismantled over the next several years. A symbol of global peacemaking, Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He became the first black president of South Africa in 1994, serving until 1999.



This Day in History (14-Jun-1913) – The South African Government pass the Immigration Act triggering widespread agitation led by Gandhiji

Gandhiji arrived in South Africa in 1893 at the relatively tender age of 24 as a newly qualified lawyer on a temporary assignment to act on behalf of a local Indian trader in a commercial dispute. What was meant to be a short stopgap for the struggling young lawyer turned into a 21-year stay, with spells in India and England. When Gandhi arrived in 1893, the issue of Indian immigration was a hot topic. When Gandhi visited the Durban courthouse shortly after his arrival, as a way of acclimatising to the courts in South Africa, the local magistrate asked him to remove the turban he was wearing which Gandhiji refused to do. His struggle towards rights turned into Satyagraha movement in 1906. Government was in process of implementing Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance, requiring all male Asians in the Transvaal to be fingerprinted and carry a form of pass. In a meeting of 3000 Indians, Gandhiji vowed that Indians would elect to go to prison rather than submit to the law in question. In 1908 he encouraged mass of 2000 population to bun the identity documents.

On 14 June 1913, the first Immigration Regulation Act, which limited the free movement of Asians, and restricted their entry into the country, was passed in South Africa. The Act was prejudiced on the basis of national origin, race, gender and class. Five months down the line, Mahatma Gandhi was confronted by Security police as he led striking Indian mineworkers, protesting the Immigration Act, from Newcastle to the Transvaal. The 1913 protest actions were what led to General Jan Smuts setting up a commission to investigate Indian grievances that would ultimately end in the passing of the Indian Relief Act, which paved the way for Gandhi’s return to India, having achieved a major legal milestone for Indians in South Africa. So powerful was this form of non-violent resistance that, as Gandhi was leaving South Africa in 1914, he described it as ‘perhaps the mightiest instrument on earth’.