Sir Trevor McDonald reports on Nelson Mandela, who went from freedom fighter to become South Africa’s first Black president.
In the 1940s, South Africa was under apartheid rule: the doctrine that white people were somehow superior to Black people. The white police force sometimes tortured and killed the regime’s Black opponents.
Nelson Mandela became a leader of the African National Congress, the main group arguing that all races should have equal rights and crucially the vote. The ANC favoured peaceful protests but the state showed no such restraint.
Mandela set up a military wing of the ANC, the Spear of the Nation and began bombing infrastructure to avoid human casualties but the organisation he helped to found would later go on to kill hundreds of people.
He was arrested in 1963 and went on trial for his crimes, but Mandela turned the trial into a platform to argue the ANC’s cause, not just to the judge but to a gallery full of reporters who would take his message to the world.
Mandela representing himself, read out a powerful closing statement and the state drew back from the death penalty. Instead he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
For 27 years in was in prison on Robben Island. In 1990 it was announced that Mandela would finally be released. He was 71 years old.
He began negotiations with his former oppressors and in April 1994, only four years after his release, he finally achieved his greatest ambition, to bring democracy to South Africa for all its people. In the first free election ever held, Mandela took almost 65% of the vote and became the country’s first Black leader.
This short film is from the BBC series, Icons.
Key Stage 3 – History
This short film could be used to discuss:
Key figures in the 20th century
South African history
A history of human rights