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Nelson Mandela's Transformation of the African National Congress

Essay by review  •  December 26, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  3,512 Words (15 Pages)  •  1,551 Views

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I. Introduction

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought again 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 achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. (Denenberg 83-85)" These were Nelson Mandela's last words before being sentenced to life imprisonment for recruiting and training for the purpose of sabotage and violent revolution. As a result of love and dedication to both his people and nation, the ideal that Mandela expresses has become reality. Through his leadership, Nelson Mandela transformed the African National Congress [ANC] from a resistance group to a legitimate alternative to the ruling government of South Africa. This paper will examine the actions taken by Mandela to transform the ANC into an agent for change and for the eventual eradication of apartheid. Evidence will be introduce to support the contention that, without Mandela, the ANC would not have taken the steps necessary to bring about meaningful political changes in South Africa.

II. The ANC Before Mandela

In an attempt to describe Nelson Mandela's transformation of the ANC, one must include a description of the ANC prior to Mandela's involvement. Dr. Pixley Ka Izaka Seme, a young Zulu relative of the Swazi royal family, developed the African National Congress. While studying at Columbia and Oxford Universities, Seme's aspirations were focused on how to rebuild the Zulu nation. He spoke of hopes for African liberation, "Already I seem to see her chains dissolve, her desert plains red with harvest, her Abssyinia and her Zululand the seats of science and religion... (Holland 39)" But upon his return to Johannesburg from London in 1910, he was shocked by the conditions under which Africans lived and worked. He planned to establish a legal practice, but soon saw how few opportunities were available to him as a black lawyer. His voice was hardly heard in the magistrate's courts and his evidence was rarely accepted. Policemen stopped him at corners demanding to see his pass and tax receipt ("How Congress Began"). These experiences enraged Seme, and caused him to put aside his dreams of rebuilding the Zulu nation aside. He saw the treatment of blacks in their own land and developed a new goal, to unite blacks in defense of their rights (Holland 39). He began with a meeting among three lawyers, from different tribal origins, proposing the idea that since all Africans of all tribes were the victims of such horrific treatment, unity of the tribes would be an absolute necessity. The lawyers agreed, and Seme then decided to call a conference of all black leaders. Several hundred leaders from all four provinces answered his call enthusiastically. With some dressed in Edwardian frock coats and others in leopard skins, they met in a dilapidated shed in Bloemfontein, two years after the establishment of the Union of South Africa. Journalists and builders, clergymen and clerks, businessmen and teachers met "to devise ways and means of forming our nation union for the purpose of creating nation unity and defending our rights and privileges," as said by Dr. Seme himself. The end of the conference resulted in the formation of the South African National Conference, later called the African National Congress. A Zulu headmaster from Natal, Dr. John Dube, was elected president, Solomon Plaatje, the first black to write a novel in English, was Secretary, and Dr. Seme was treasurer. Their focus was on removing racial discrimination in parliament, public administration, schools and the factories of their native land. South Africa. Their method of actions would be similar to those encouraged by Mahatma Ghandi, Ð''peaceful propaganda' in their first attempt, then Ð''passive action' or 'continued movement' would follow (Holland 40-41). It wouldn't be until 1944, thirty-two years after it's formation, that Mandela would join the ANC.

III. Enter Mandela

Walter Sisul, a real estate agent from Transkei like Mandela, invited him and his friend Oliver Tambo to an ANC meeting (Otfinoski 29-30). The two thoroughly enjoyed what the heard and quickly joined the organization as members. But, by the time of Mandela's enrollment, the ANC had suffered a decline. The once energetic and enthusiastic demands for change it's members had embraced over thirty years ago were now replaced with less relevant ones. Many of its younger members grew tired of the old leadership's course of action, pointing out the injustices of apartheid so that even whites would eventually understand its evil, But, the younger members were tired of waiting for whites to help. According to Barry Denenberg, "The ANC had grown weak. The leadership had become cautious, and had compromised when they should have confronted." These were the opinions of many of its younger members, Mandela included. They felt that more forceful steps were necessary to achieve their goals. Their influence would change the entire political philosophy of the ANC. By 1944, Mandel and sixty-two others were the founders of a separate division of the ANC, the Youth League of the African National Congress. It's development would satisfy those who longed for change along with those who wanted to work within the ANC. Long discussions began to define their political philosophy. The belief of some was that Africa belonged to black people and that while should leave. They, not the whites, were the owners of a land that had been divided and conquered by white European colonists. But Mandela opposed this approach. He believed that South Africa should become a nation without any kind of racism, and that all racial groups were there to stay. The League decided that whites were neither enemy nor friend. Blacks had to take responsibility for their own future, and this was what mattered most. But the Youth League had to take action soon. South Africa's industry was growing and foreign investment increasing, causing the whites to become richer. Hundreds of thousands of Africans were being crammed into overcrowded townships, suffering unemployment, ill health, forced removal from their homes, and constant police pressure. The blacks were becoming poorer and suffering from deteriorating living conditions, they were becoming more aggressive. The Youth League wanted to involve as many people as they could in their effort for change. Their old ways of petitions and polite letters of protests would no longer suffice. The African Nation Congress had to



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