Nelson Mandela: his Politics, Apartheid and Prison Life

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To the average person, Nelson Mandela is remembered as a political leader who eventually was president of his homeland of South Africa. However, behind his seemingly ever smiling face, lied a life of struggles and injustice. Before Mandela could become the great leader that he was, he endured numerous trials and tribulations. Mandela was born in 1918, at Mvezo, and into a royal family of the Thembu people of the Xhosa nation. His father was a chief of Mvezo, however his untimely death when Mandela was 9, left Mandela to be greatly influenced by the regent. Growing up as part of a tribe, it greatly affected Mandela’s views which were shaped by custom, ritual and taboo. Mandela was in and out of schools, jobs and homes all throughout his childhood and even into his early adult life. Because of this nomad type of living in his young years, he got to know many different types of people from different tribes, who possible had different social and/or political views. This in turn would shape Mandela’s social and political views, as well as his view on the world. This paper argues that Mandela’s experiences at Healdtown helped to shape his cultural and moral values and his time at Fort Hare helped to shape his political values, all aiding to the development of the great political leader that he one day would become.

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When Mandela was about 19 years old, following his rigorous experiences at Clarkebury Mandela enrolled in the Wesleyan College in Fort Beaufort, Healdtown. His time here certainly influenced his cultural view of his own tribe as well as other’s tribes. The first instance occurs when Mandela made [his] first Sotho-speaking friend, Zachariah Molete and he remembered feeling quite bold having a friend who was not Xhosa (37). Mandela never knew that the possibility of making not friendships outside of his own tribe even existed before attending Healdtown. However, by interacting with people outside of his native tribe, Mandela began to sense his identity as an African, not just a Thembu or even a Xhosa (38). These examples show how Mandela’s time at Healdtown led him to broaden his cultural horizons and shape his new cultural views and which in turn would contribute the great political leader he became.

In addition to making a friend outside of his tribe at Healdtown, Mandela also witnessed a black man stand up to Dr. Wellington, a white, important figure in the school, which further developing his cultural views. Reverend Mokitimi, a black man, refused to report to Dr. Wellington of the infraction that occurred between two prefects at the school. Dr. Wellington asked again, however Reverend Mokitimi refused once again to give away any information to him at the time, but he would inform him the next day. Through this Mandela realized then that a black man did not have to defer automatically to a white man, however senior he was (38). Similarly, to how Mandela would never have considered having a friend across tribe lines, he also would have never considered a black man standing up to a whit man across color lines. Previously, Mandela would have considered all black men to be below white, however through this experience, he understands that it is not necessarily that way. At Healdtown, Mandela witnesses the notion of double consciousness as he was a balck man trying to navigate the British style education during this time. He has empowerment and can achieve massive amounts throughout his time there, but he still has restrictions on him due to his color. As Reverend Mokitimi stood up to Dr. Wellington, Mandela’s cultural views were again shaped and molded to aid him in his ideals as a great political leader.

In addition to Mandela’s cultural views being shaped at Healdtown, his moral values were also put to the test. In his second year at the school Mandela was appointed a prefect by Reverend Mokitimi and Dr. Wellington. He had many responsibilities, but one specifically tested his moral values. He was assigned night duty and caught another prefect urinating in the bushes. Such behaviors were to be reported immediately, however instead of following the strict rules at Healdtown, Mandela did not report one of his own kind and he simply tore up [his list] and charged no one (40). Despite this being a minor event, it still demonstrates how Mandela would stick up for those of his own kind and not turn on them, showing loyalty. This instance shaped and even reinforced Mandela’s moral values, which helped him when becoming a major political leader.

During Mandela’s time at Fort Hare, there were many clear events that shaped his political viewpoints and strength. However, arguably the most defining and controversial moment in his time there was the student government election and the events surrounding it. Mandela was appointed for highest student organization at the school, the Student Representative Council. However, during the election time, many students believed that their voices were not heard. The students unanimously felt that the diet at Fort Hare was unsatisfactory and that the powers of the SRC needed to be increased (51). To change the issue that they were facing, the majority of the student body decided to boycott the upcoming election and Mandela also boycotted. Even though the majority of the students boycotted, approximately 25 students still voted in the Student Representative Council election. Mandela was elected with six other students all of whom wrote a letter of resignation to the principal, Dr. Kerr. Dr. Kerr accepted their resignation, and arranged for another election, this time however with all students voting at the dining hall during dinner. Mandela was once again elected, with the original five others. Despite the other five finding it acceptable to accept their Student Representative Council positions, Mandela did not and this resigned again. However, the principal told him that he either had to accept his position on the Student Representative Council or he would be forced to leave Fort Hare. Mandela had to make another moral decision, similar to the one made at Healdtown, and once again decides to stand up for what he believes in, thus leaving Fort Hare and its education behind. When describing this event in his autobiography, Mandela states that he simply could not [compromise]. Something inside me simply would not let me resented his absolute power over my fate (52-53).

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Nelson Mandela: His politics, apartheid and prison life. (2019, Jul 29). Retrieved February 7, 2023 , from

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