News / Africa

Mandela’s Youthful Rebellion Ends in Spirit of Forgiveness

Mandela’s Youthful Rebellion Ends in Spirit of Forgivenessi
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December 11, 2013
When the world mourns Nelson Mandela at his funeral this weekend, few will remember that early on, the father of the modern South African nation was feared and condemned by many nations for advocating violence. VOA’s Mary Motta has the story from London.
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Mary Motta
— When the world mourns Nelson Mandela at his funeral this weekend, few will remember that early on, the father of the modern South African nation was feared and condemned by many nations for advocating violence.

When he was young, Mandela had a rebellious streak.  He was a founding member of the Youth League of the African National Congress, combating apartheid at a young age.

In 1961, he founded and became co-chairman of the ANC's military wing.    

Its tactics included bombing power plants, military installations, and transportation lines.

Nevertheless, the newly formed human rights group Amnesty International began supporting Mandela. It sent observers to South Africa, where more Mandela, among more than 150 people, were accused of treason. All were found not guilty.

Steve Crawshaw of Amnesty International shares a letter Mandela wrote to Amnesty in 1962 thanking the group for its support and assistance.

But, Amnesty ended Mandela’s status as a prisoner of conscience when he advocated violence against the apartheid government.  

“There was an anguished set of discussions within Amnesty as the admiration for Mandela was still there," Crenshaw said. "But the bottom line of the principle of prisoner of conscience was always, is, and always will be absolute non-violence. So there was a great deal of consensus, but a great deal of anguish.”

In 1962, Mandela was convicted of conspiracy and he began serving a life sentence two years later.

The 1960s brought a change in tactics by groups campaigning for change. Once local and confined to a specific area of conflict, they now focused on the anti-colonial unification of groups worldwide.

“In the 1960s, it was the height of decolonialization.  Many countries were decolonizing from their imperial past," said Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at Chatham House. "Obviously the United Kingdom was one of those, and France was another.”

The 1970s and 1980s brought heightened fears of the Cold War and global terrorism.  
“In the 1980s, you had the apartheid regime in South Africa increasingly in crisis, but you also had heightened anxieties of the Cold War and the growth of international terrorism," Vines said.

Britain was battling the military wing of the Irish Republican Army. Analysts say Mandela was lumped along with terrorists in western perception.

In 1984, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher narrowly escaped injury when an IRA bomb exploded at a Conservative Party meeting in Brighton. Five party members were killed.

In 1987, Thatcher branded the ANC a terrorist organization.

Following South Africa's transition to black majority rule and Mandela's election as president, many feared his ascension to power.

But those who feared a freed Nelson Mandela pursuing power in South Africa have watched him lead, govern, and forgive. This week they mourn and honor him.

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