Mandela: From Prisoner to President

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
June 17, 2013

Dr. Kwame NantambuAs Nelson Mandela remains “in critical condition” in a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, as a result of “a recurring lung infection” it becomes extremely imperative/vital to trace/recount his remarkable/heroic journey from prisoner/revolutionary to President of South Africa.

At the outset, it must be emphasized that the year 1994 was a watershed turning-point as the white minority-ruled South Africa joined the civilized nations as a de jure actor on the international stage of democracy.


Since 1948, the violent, racist, fascist and vicious system of Apartheid had been the law of the land. It was the bedrock of the Constitution.

Indeed, the political principle/rationale on which Apartheid was founded was best expressed by Cecil Rhodes as follows: “I will lay down my policy on the native question, either you will receive them on an equal footing as citizens or call them a subject race. I have made up my mind that there must be class legislation. The native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt the system of despotism. These are my politics and these are the politics of South Africa.”

Truth Be Told: Nelson Mandela became leader of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1961 and was elected as the first Black President of South Africa in May 1994. He spent twenty-seven years (5 August 1962-11 February 1990) in prison not only to denounce Cecil Rhodes’ Euro-colonial, paternalistic mind-set and system of governance but also to prove that Apartheid was immoral, undemocratic and violent.

In 1993, more than 3,000 Black South Africans were killed to prove this same point in a government-sponsored and financed reign of terror characterised under the euphemism of “Black on Black crime.” In 1989, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and this geo-political phenomenon signalled the demise of the Cold War between the East and West. In April 1994, the Apartheid Wall also came tumbling down and thus signalled the demise of the long hot war between the violent minority white South Africans and the majority Black South Africans.

If all the citizens of South Africa wanted to coexist in perpetual peace and human harmony/dignity, then, majority rule was the only glue to make the different pieces or factions of this new genre of governance stick together as one.

The stark reality was that for this to have happened, the ANC under Nelson Mandela and the National Party under F.W. de Klerk had to stand united to thwart the divide and rule tactics of the Afrikaner Volksfront (an unholy alliance of pro-Apartheid white groups) and the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party led by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Those were the power-hungry people who were determined to disrupt the smooth transition to democracy and freedom and thus it was imperative for the international community and Africans in the Diaspora, in particular, to utilise any and all means necessary to ensure that the Apartheid system would eventually be relegated to the ash heap of geo-political history.

Moreover, it was a universally accepted truism that Nelson Mandela’s ANC represented the only viable/potent political vehicle to free the people of South Africa. The ANC had both national and international respect, support and accountability to lead the parade to national sovereignty and self-determination for South Africa.

The fact of the matter is that while the obdurate, conservative, pro-Apartheid white Afrikaners were not only arming themselves but also demanding a separate homeland. Nelson Mandela reached the zenith of his political savvy by publicly accusing State President F.W. de Klerk of instigating some of the overt violence in the Black townships as an integral part of his government’s strategy to jeopardise the ANC’s chances to win the first multiracial elections in South Africa.

In April 1994, the ANC received 62.5 per cent of the votes.

Truth Be Told: As prisoner, Nelson Mandela stated in his defense at his Rivonia trial in a Johannesburg suburb on 20 April 1964: “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the idea 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 for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

As President in May 1994, Nelson Mandela presided over the first “democratic and free society” in South Africa’s history.

Indeed, 1994 was the year in which the freedom of South Africa represented the severing of the last bastion/umbilical cord of European colonialism-imperialism in Africa.

In the final analysis, more significantly and poignantly, 1994 was also the year when Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela went from prisoner/revolutionary with inmate tag number 3514068123 on Robben Island to become the first Black President of South Africa.

What manner of man is this? And as The Africa Channel (Cable TV # 54) captions: “To our dear Mandela—our prayers are with you, be well soon.”

Shem Hotep (“I go in peace”).

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies.

30 Responses to “Mandela: From Prisoner to President”


  • “Indeed, the political principle/rationale on which Apartheid was founded was best expressed by Cecil Rhodes as follows: “I will lay down my policy on the native question, either you will receive them on an equal footing as citizens or call them a subject race. I have made up my mind that there must be class legislation. The native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must adopt the system of despotism. These are my politics and these are the politics of South Africa.””

    “The native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise.”
    Although the whole statement is important, it is instructive to go after this point by point. There is so much to understand about the degree to which the black man is kept in check by various races that fear his rising that to comprehend and analyse the various forms of discrimination is mindbogling. Everywhere the black presence is prominent, there is always accompanying politics to denigrate his stature by undermining any contributory evidence of his presence. Mandela’s treatment can be attributed to our current treatment right here in Trinidad and Tobago. Most of this comes in the form of policy, perceived crime and deception in the last three years. To describe a few, it is noteworthy to remember actions by the PP on ascending to government in order to differentiate themselves from the previous government. 1. The PM announcing massive information gathering by the PNM administration. 2. the AG announcing his intention to recover funds from the UWI Professor on claiming that he invented the ‘G’ Pan, stating that it does NOT belong to him but the government. 3. Again by the AG, the ‘lose’ of the Wurlitzer piano (supposedly taken by outgoing PM Manning). 4. Calling of the State Of Emergency in which approximately four thousand people of African descent were incarcerated (without charge). 5. The naming of an impending coupe d’tat to overthrow the PM by the PM herself. 6. The constant under-current of movements to undermine the office of the DPP. These are significant developments which when properly analyzed emerges a clear and pronounced intention to thwart black progress and perceptions. Whilst the initial intention is to stop the perceptions, its more devious intent is to replace it with cultural behavior that is foreign to our natural history. Let us take item #1, the spying on citizens – no government of the day today can be fully functional without knowing who within its borders, threaten its stabilization. African and South American states had their share coup d’tats (usually engineered by high ranking and sometimes close associates of the leaders) in the 60s and 70s because they laid trust in them and were violently overthrown. This gave rise to the necessity of keeping tabs on internal threats by would-be insurgents. the PM’s intent was to label Manning an evil leader. Item #2 – the UWI professor whose claim to fame was his invention of the ‘G’ Pan and therefore a personal acclaim and triumph (funded by the government of the day) his intent was to cast doubt and significance on Pan in general and on the professor’s achievement, plain and simple. 3. the stealing of the piano – this is a clear case of disrespect and demonizing the previous leader especially by the chief law enforcement officer of the nation. Item #4 – rounding and arresting the nearly four thousand suspects (almost all of whom were Africans). This is a clear show of ‘who is boss’ here and the intended effect was to intimidate those belonging to the affected race. The narrative was to show what can happen ‘if yuh mis-behave’. Item #5 – the intended coup d’etat against the PM by the PM herself. In most usual cases, this kind of activity is pronounced by law enforcement personnel but the PM herself found it necessary to throw her weight behind the announcement to show who the culprits were – Muslims and Africans. Item #6 – the under current to undermine the office of the DPP – there is no denying by most fair-minded people that this is the only institution that has not been undertaken by politics. the DPP has stared clear of
    controversy (as much he can) but the under-current is strong to associate him the the ‘PNM’ and therefore unfit to remain in that office. Whilst beginning office demonizing intelligence gathering, the PM has now found the importance of this activity high on her agenda. In so doing, her most trusted contractor has been fingered to be the collector of such information, therefore providing the desired trust she needs in order to remain relevant and informed of any threats to her administration. Race in activities like remain the constant narrative. Only thing though, as can be seen by current revelations elsewhere, it can be dangerous allowing contractors and not government to monitor these activities but the catch here is that in government there may not be a high degree of trust because the associated institutions of government might be staffed by too many Africans whose presence might be a source distrust. These and many more are concerns that Africans or African presence might present a threat to the kind of democracy practiced by the PP government. Those who have eyes to see can see the intentions very clearly and those who may not be so suspecting might allow the unspoken behaviour to go forward unnoticed. Africans are to be treated like children!!!!!!.

    • “These are significant developments which when properly analyzed emerges a clear and pronounced intention to thwart black progress and perceptions.” (KIAN)

      Blacks are doing a fine job to thawart black progress all on their own. They do not need any assistance in this regard in T&T. Just examine the statistics on education, crime, wealth acquisition, home ownership, entrepreneurship,etc. long before this PP government came into power. Kian, people like you should be spending your energy trying to find ways to uplift the community rather than focussing on all the negatives of Indian race and religion.

      • Oh! by the way How about corruption? I’m sure you will say blacks are doing a fine job there too. yeah, right!

    • You are beginning to sound like Rowdee: negative,bitter,accusatory,totally subjective, divisive, hypocritical, angry….your comments lack supporting evidence…you indulge in name calling, generalizations, biased opinions lacking specifics. It is however typical of the character flaws in the Trini personality, especially the politicans of every stripe.

      • I did not realize the six items I detailed are subjective, decisive and hypocritical.When people are dishonest with themselves, they always find someone else to blame. Professor Copeland is not a fantasy, the AG’s action is not a fantasy. Kamla’s warning to the nation that people are being watched are not a fantasy. The announcement that she is being targeted is not a fantasy, the SOE is not a fantasy, the undercurrent of displacing the DPP isn not a fantasy. The AG alluding that Manning stole the piano is not fantasy. The ONLY fantasy is your inability to deal with truth, from my school of thought, when there is a problem, you address it, look for solutions then follow an action line. Has this PPP regime ever admitted to anything?

        • FACTS
          Copeland’s project was financed by the government of T&T.
          People were being monitored personally by Manning.
          The PM really did receive a death warning and this was verified ny Gibbs.
          The SOE was a solid attempt to curb crime. It resulted in the arrest of those who were perpetuating crime. Most escaped on technicalities and were later arrested. Some were not guilty of anything.
          The DPP has proven to be somewhat slow. The Clico investigation has been going on for years…no result…no charges.The DPP has a tendency to act quickly only when he wishes to do so.A review of the constitution should eliminate this position.
          The PP government must bring in a proper vetting process to avoid the errors which they keep making with regards to appointments of persons who are dishonest in presenting their qualifications.There are a lot of Trinis running around with degrees from questionable institutions. Also a degree from UTT and UWI does not mean much today.The country needs a proper process to verify resumes especially when the tradition is to first find people from your own party.This limits your choices of qualified persons.This is one area where this government is making many mistakes.

  • Is it because we do not know or is it that we believe that by denying it it will be relegated to the outer edges of existence and not talked about. I refer to Cuito Cuanavale. Those who know about the battle at/for Cuito Cuanavale would see where the fall of apartheid and the new thinking in and around the southern African front started.

    Briefly, and not according to western history writer, the SA elite forces, including western mecenaries/advisors were trapped in Namibia SWA as it was called then). The Western Alliance led by the USA had to negiotiate a deal whereby the combined Cuban/Angolan forces would release the trapped forces, preventing a massacre and in return Namibia’s Independence and discussions on South Africa would begin.

    I would like to know what else could have brought the SA government to the table to talk about majority rule.

  • He is the one person other than my parents that i look up to the most in the entire world. The policies of forgiveness he instituted…..i could never do that…..is to be admired.
    If he has to go then let him go sleep with his ancestors….i’m sure they are waiting proudly in the afterlife for him. Jah Bless you Madiba.

  • An inspiration, a shining light to the world, an example of positivity and its benefits, someone who has not dwelled on his unfair punishment but capitalized on the opportunities presented to him without blaming others or harboring resentment and bitter antagonism against others.
    Are listening Rodwell and Kian?

  • The South African apartheid model for dealing with Africans, with subtle variations, have found favor with both the PPP in Guyana and the PP in T&T. We have to be clear here. What those who implement these social stratifying strategies fear most is a level playing ground where Africans explode their indigenous prejudices and stereotypes.

    Racial prejudice is a product of fear and envy, and when converted into a social construct it is intended to ensure that the targets conform to the religious or cultural supremacist prejudices of the practitioners. Conflict emerge in societies when targets refuse to go along with the order.

    Where we have to start off in our examination of this is from the point of origin. Where it began. How it began. In which cultures it found residence, and was applied as a social construct. We cannot ignore thousands of years of enculturation where beliefs in genetic superiority and inferiority based on color or membership in an ethnic grouping are handed down generation to generation. There is a great reluctance to examine racism from this perspective, because then it forces too many to come to grips with their history and present, and removes the wall of protection they hide behind.

    You are not born racist. You are not born with hate. You are born with a clean slate. However, if the culture from which you emerge is steeped in religious belief systems of human superiority and inferiority, either in strict doctrine or by interpretation, then your reality is more than likely to be skewed by prejudices. And if your norm is that you are better than them because they are what they are, any objection from them to this order of things becomes offensive, to the point where it is even termed to be racist. And that is an irony.

  • To compare the government of T&T with the apartheid regime of the former South Africa is to diminish the struggle of South Africans against apartheid and to minimize the efforts of Mandela.

    • “Blacks are doing a fine job to thawart black progress all on their own. They do not need any assistance in this regard in T&T. Just examine the statistics on education, crime, wealth acquisition, home ownership, entrepreneurship,etc.”….TMan
      Mandela’s place in history is assured and will continue to be a model for good and decent people can emulate. Your statement is the kind used by most racists to justify their supremacist attitudes toward black people. Statistics is NOT a science it is a tool. It can be used to promote an idea or subvert one. In your case, you don’t really care what cause the numbers to be the way they are, ALL you know is that Indian numbers are better, and this is good enough for you. You are not reflective enough to understand that “when your neighbor’s house is on fire” what you have to do to yours! But such is the case in Trinidad and that is why we have this divide. Nationhood is never in the best interest of that kind of thinking, because it is always their material worth that supercedes every other consideration.

      • Statistics is the science of the collection, organization, and interpretation of data.[1][2] It deals with all aspects of this, including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments.[1]

        By the way, as a resident of T&T, I live very well with my neighbors of all races. You should stop attributing motives to my comments. Fortunately you live overseas where the poison you spread could not harm us.

        • Statistics – data, facts and figures, numbers, information, details; informal stats.

          Science? Ha!

  • Like I said with some variations. Further, what I am comparing is a mindset. There are racist in the US with the same mindset as Adolf Hitler. That does not mean that their deeds are comparable to his.

    Further, I am not in any impressed by your comment about diminishing the struggles of the indigenous South Africans. Those convenient recognitions are usually trotted out to take away attention from the shared anti black attitudes between regimes in different geographies with significant black populations. My point and argument remains that the PP in T&T and the PPP in Guyana, exhibit the same kind of supremacist attitude towards black people as was evident among the whites in South Africa and the US South during the civil rights struggles.

    I mean one can read between the lines of the posts by the resident cyber warriors and their boasts about what Indians have done in the US and in T&T. Well Indians only accomplished what they did in the US because blacks had the courage to rise up, to sacrifice, to bare their bodies against bullets, water cannons and lynching ropes, in order to open up the society for Indians and others to enjoy. And that is not speculation, that is fact.

    • “Well Indians only accomplished what they did in the US because blacks had the courage to rise up, to sacrifice, to bare their bodies against bullets, water cannons and lynching ropes, in order to open up the society for Indians and others to enjoy. And that is not speculation, that is fact.”(Rodwell)

      This may be very factual, but the question has to be asked: Why only a limited number of Blacks of successive generations are presently enjoying the sacrifices of their forefathers and many White liberals? Why was it possible for other immigrants from the WestIndies, India ,Africa and Latin America to march into the US and enjoy the fruits of the labor of the Civil Rights movement?

  • Man that “I have a black friend” excuse has long become tired. Further, you do not know where I live. And again, we never started any fire. I do not guess at your comments, I interpret them accurately and completely.

    You exhibit the typical slave master predisposition of determining what amounts to good blacks and what amount to bad blacks. It never ceases to amaze me, how fluently you flow into the role, how easily the comparison emerge. Unfortunately for you it is no longer obscured.

    • Your enthusiam and energy would be better spent uplifting your own rather than tearing down others.Your obsession with the achievements of Indians is turning you into a very negative and bitter person….therapy?…..volunteering in a Black community?

  • Again, we do not need advice from you. I am not obsessed with the achievements of Indians because that is not exceptional. It is only exceptional to you. I could not be bothered with you and your ilk.

    I am an African, grounded in my community, and thankfully, completely immune from the interference of folks like you. Further, Africans are not the ones crying to foreign leaders to protect us or take us to some other country. There is no greater evidence of bitterness than what emanate from folks like you, slavering for extra judicial sanctions against every black man that does not live up to your stereotype.

    Like I said, you echo the responses of your symbiotic kin whenever they encounter a black man who does not bend to their will. You can expect no change in that, expend your drivel.

    • Your blogs present the opposite view. You are so obsessed with Indians and their achievements that you cannot be objective.
      Every comment of yours has the same theme.Get over it , my friend. Were you a jilted lover? You exude desperation. Go back and read you own blogs! Every single one is preoccupied with Indians and their caste orentations.Once again, I recommend therapy.
      Also, what is obvious is that you do not live in T&T and your contemporary knowledge of T&T is questionable.

    • The colour of blood is red, regardless of the colour of your skin. When you are laying on bed as a patient it does not matter who the practitioner attending to you is? All you are concerned with is getting better and getting out of that medical institution. Therefore this statement ‘I am an African, grounded in my community, and thankfully, completely immune from the interference of folks like you’. This statement is un-warranted and borders on insularity, naivety, parochial mindedness and prejudice. Mandela is an outstanding renowned statesman and shows immense maturity of not harbouring resentment despite the 27 years of incarceration. The same can be said of Obama where he seized the opportunity and had the support of many (beside his ilk). It would be foolhardy to compare either one with Papa Doc. Get back on track in the name of objectivity and do not yield to irritation.

  • Rodwell, why do you argue? You will lose no matter what. To fight against a collective (systemicnd individual) with a genetic predisposition to race is literally spinning top in mud.
    Telling people the sky is damn blue and getting a counter response from color blind folks telling you it is not is counter productive to the cause. Good luck.

  • There are a number of bloggers on this website who persistently present arguments against Indians in T&T and Indians internationally. They hide behind their blackness assuming that because of their ethnicity they are entitled to cast aspersions and accuse others of racism. They believe that their ancestral suffering entitles them to lecture others on race. They use traditional and classical examples of racism against Blacks to rationalize their bigotry. Ladies and gentlemen, let me inform you, there are numerous Black racists out there .Let us call them out when we find them. They lurk everywhere, in academia, political arenas, and at the workplace.
    There is no excuse for racism. They do not realize that it is possible to be proud of one’s ethnicity without being racist and dragging down others. T&T is presently faced with a contingent of Blacks who are opposed to what they incorrectly perceive as an Indian government. This group interprets power as political power and as an entitlement for the Afro-Trini population, because other races in T&T dominate the commerce channels.
    Let us be equally vigilant concerning Indian racism and continue to reject those who pursue those agendas, and there are many. But above all, let us all try to be fair and objective.

  • ‘There is no excuse for racism. They do not realize that it is possible to be proud of one’s ethnicity without being racist and dragging down others’. This statement and your last paragraph are positive statements. This includes cultural beliefs, religion etc. In every creed and race there are good and bad. We do see such presently, e.g.,in Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Syria.

  • Nelson Mandela together with several other individuals are/were “Divinely Inspired”

    Here are some names to consider:John.F.Kennedy,Mahatma Gandhi,and Dr.Martin Luther King.

  • Don’t be so quick to heavenize Gandhi……research his years spent in S. Africa….u won’t be so ready to praise him.

    • Was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proselytizing when he referred himself as a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi? Admittedly he initially made mistakes when he went there as a young lawyer graduating in the UK. He was thrown of a train and he was also incarcerated in prison in SA. It is there he started to pen his SatyaGraha. Nelson Mandela did the same during the early years of the ANC of dealing with apartheid with violence, he also changed after being incarcerated for 27 years, by advocating peace and forgiveness. We all make mistakes in our early lives just like Saul did on his way to Damascus. Please save us from casting aspersions unless your mission is to divide and rule.

  • TMan Indians like you always feel that those who see through them are obsessed with their group. It is an indication of the racist hubris that inundate your psyche. You have become so accustomed to getting away with your putrid prejudices that anytime you discover anyone is paying attention, it becomes an obsession. Well your symbiotic kith and kin in the Americas back in the day use to make the same observations.

    Further, any one who uses this blog to boasts about what his race did in the US and T&T, and engages in other ethnic narcissistic crap have to expect to face rebuttals from those who belong to groups that are always paving the way for others to come in, eat to surfeit, and then open their pie holes to brag and boast. You come from a cultural and religious background where people are stratified by color. It is quite obvious that centuries of physical separation from the geography that nurtured those beliefs have not caused any ideological separation from them.

    I come from a religious and cultural background where everyone is acceptable regardless of their origins. So do not pawn your sordid traits off on me. That does not mean I will tolerate the opposite, and sate their vanity by my silence.

    Fair and objective!! You!!. Give me a break. Your sense of fairness is so damn skewed that it has become a prism of reality through which the entire black world is wrong if it does not bend and genuflect before your postulations. I have 4 centuries of experience in racism to use as microscope to examine attitudes and behaviors. And when those attitudes and behaviors mirror what has been our experiences, I will lambaste them, regardless of whether the repository is white, black or brown. Your problem is that you feel you are entitled to be prejudice in your views and that anyone who challenges it is not playing fair. Well, tough cookie!!!

  • Easy to understand = true= Rodwell Paton
    This is what psychologists call the illusion of truth effect and it arises at least partly because familiarity breeds liking. As we are exposed to YOUR message again and again, it becomes more familiar. Because of the way your mind works, what is familiar is also true to you. Familiar things require less effort to process and that feeling of ease unconsciously signals truth. Psychologists call this cognitive fluency
    As every politician knows, there’s not much difference between actual truth and the illusion of truth. Since illusions are often easier to produce, why bother with the truth? Keep reproducing your message Rodwell, we might all start believing it!

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