CLEVELAND, Ohio – Born on July 18, 1918 into the royal family of the Thembu tribe where his father was chief, Nelson Mandela began a life of leadership at an early age. At nine years old Mandela, then known as Rolihlahla, was adopted by a high-ranking member of the Thembu regent who began to prepare Mandela for a role as a tribal leader. Mandela would go on to end the apartheid government in South Africa and champion causes including human rights and poverty.
In the 1940’s, Mandela became a leader for the African National Congress, or ANC – a political party – and oversaw peaceful protests and eventually armed resistance against the discriminatory apartheid government. In 1949, the ANC adopted the ANCYL plan in an attempt to achieve full citizenship for all South Africans. The plan utilized several strategies including boycotts, strikes and other forms of nonviolent civil disobedience.
In 1952 after leading the ANC’s Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws, Mandela formed the first black law firm in South Africa with his associate Oliver Tambo and began his advocacy working as a low-cost or free attorney for those affected by apartheid legislation.
In that same year Mandela traveled across Africa to organize protests against apartheid policies and to promote the Freedom Charter Manifesto, which would be ratified by the Congress of the People in 1955.
After government harassment of the ANC and discussion of banning the group began, Mandela devised what was termed as the M Plan. This reorganized the ANC into smaller groups, which would then seek out and encourage public participation in grassroots form.
Following the Sharpeville Massacre in March of 1969 in which 69 peaceful protesters were shot and killed by government police the ANC was banned. This led to Mandela being forced underground where he continued his advocacy but with an armed resistance approach.
Mandela co-founded and led Spear Of The Nation also known as MK, which was the new armed wing of the ANC. Shortly after, the police raided an ANC hideout where a gathering of members was taking place to discuss the ethics of the new guerrilla strategies.
Mandela and seven other ANC defendants were later put on trial for attempting to overthrow the government and all were sentenced to life in prison. The eight-month trial gained international attention.
On Robben Island, miles off the coast of Cape Town, Mandela spent his prison time doing hard labor in inhumane conditions both abusive and neglectful in nature. While he was in prison Mandela’s wife and Oliver Tambo led the campaign for his release.
As a prisoner, Mandela spent his free time earning a Bachelor of Arts in law from the University of London, served as a mentor to fellow inmates and smuggled out political statements and other writings. Mandela was ordered to be released by President F. W. de Klerk on February 11, 1990.
Once free, Mandela led ANC discussions with the National Party and other organizations about ending apartheid and creating a multi-ethnic government. Mandela is said to have played a vital role in resolving differences between the two political organizations that both wanted complete power.
After being elected as president, Mandela created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate all human rights violations taking place between 1960 and 1994. Mandela also developed several social welfare programs and enacted a South African constitution in 1996 that forbade any discrimination including that of whites.
Following his service as President, Mandela went on to establish several organizations including the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Elders. Mandela also went on to become a major advocate for AIDS awareness, the disease that killed his son, Makgatho.
Mandela also has expressed support for international organizations such as Make Poverty History.
RESULTS, an international NGO focused on ending extreme poverty, wrote an article detailing their experience at an advocacy workshop after finding out about Mandela’s passing:
“In advocacy we talk about the importance of a clear message…We use the ‘EPIC’ technique (Engage the audience, state the Problem, Inform, Call to Action). Mandela had a very clear message of justice that people all over South Africa wanted to follow.”
The organization explained the importance of having a clear goal with realistic milestones at their workshop.
In comparing the work of advocacy to Mandela’s work they explain, “that is what Mandela achieved. The end of Apartheid was the goal, building equality for all sections of society. But there were concrete milestones too – the end of the pass laws, desegregation of housing and so on. That allowed us to see we were making progress.” Furthermore, RESULTS cites insider and outsider advocacy declaring Mandela an “expert at both.”
The organization describes insider advocacy as having a focus on negotiation usually involving meetings with government officials and others while maintaining a cooperative approach. Outsider advocacy consists of protests, strikes, boycotts and other collective civil protest. Mandela successfully used both of these aspects of advocacy to his advantage.
“Another lesson is that he formed a strong coalition…The ANC allied with many groups – the unions, the churches, white people, all races. Sometimes in life we have to ally with groups we would not normally be friends with.”
Mandela’s ability to use both diplomacy and mass protest proved invaluable to his success as an advocate of the people. Mandela spoke for those treated as less than and continued to do so after leaving office. He referred to issues such as poverty and hate as “unnatural” and understood that it was people that enabled or created these conditions and therefore the people could end these atrocities.
“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” Mandela’s life as a leader will continue to be an inspiration to advocates and to others who understand that individuals are not defined by their circumstance, but are defined by what they do to change that circumstance.
– Christopher Kolezynski