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Nelson Mandela’s Experience

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Nelson Mandela has become a world’s symbol of the struggle for the human rights. Without any exaggeration, he was one of those people who changed the path of the world’s history. Mandela suffered for his beliefs, but he would never quit his mission. For his views and irreconcilable struggle, he became imprisoned for many years. This brave and courageous man spent twenty-seven years in prison in total, and eighteen of them – on Robben Island in the Atlantic Ocean. The life of Nelson Mandela became a legend during his lifetime; therefore, this paper discusses Nelson Mandela’s experience on Robben Island as well as his long way to becoming a world’s leader.

From 1846 to 1931, Robben Island served as a hospital for the insane and sick people because of its isolated location. Later, the island turned into the largest leprosy colony in the vicinity of the Cape of Good Hope. During the World War II, Robben Island became a military base, and afterwards it was turned into the most heavily guarded prison of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Pondering about this concept in the world’s history, one should state that the essence of the apartheid regime was that the non-white population of the country has been deprived of virtually all the civil rights and was obliged to live in reservations. Due to many years of segregation, Black Africans were not allowed to come to the “white” cities. There were also separate hospitals, schools, beaches, and public transport. It should be pointed out that the quality of service in institutions for black Africans was very low. There were not enough hospitals for non-whites while libraries, theaters, cinemas, and restaurants were not accessible at all. All the researchers agree that Mandela was involved in political opposition to white minority regime (Nwagbara, 2013). Indeed, Nelson Mandela, who died at the age of 95, spent most of his twenty-seven-year imprisonment on this island struggling against the racial segregation. He was a figure and a role model to many people who trusted in his charismatic leadership (New Word City, 2010). From the early childhood, Nelson Mandela wanted to become a person who can give the useful and meaningful lessons for other people. Mandela believed that sticking to truth can be the only option for a leader of the country. People loved him, and he loved his people.

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Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island in 1964 for his active social position. Taking into account the public response for a trial of the group of people who were fighting for the democratic rights of millions of Africans driven into the ghetto, the authorities of “white” South Africa decided not to sentence Nelson Mandela to death. However, it was not a secret that life imprisonment on Robben Island was supposed to be no more but another kind of death sentence for the leaders of the African National Congress. In prison, Mandela lived in a hut without hot water; he slept on an iron bed without a mattress and worked in limestone quarry where prisoners were forced to break up the boulders. Indeed, this hard work vividly symbolized the political struggle against the racist government, which seemed almost hopeless. The convicts were sent to Robben Island in order to destroy them both physically and mentally with the help of isolation from the outside world, hard work, and humiliation by prison guards. The visits of people from the outside world have been banned – they were allowed only for relatives, no more than a few times per year. The life in prison was terrible – the sun reflected on the rocks and blinded the eyes, the wind from the ocean stung the eyes with salt. The first three years, the authorities forbade the prisoners to wear glasses, and Mandela ruined his eyesight forever. However, he was the only one who flatly refused to treat the guards as the masters.

Two attempts of escape, which were prepared for Mandela, failed. However, Nelson Mandela not only survived on Robben Island retaining his personality but also managed to turn the terrible prison into one of the centers of the political organization of the South African movement against racism. Moreover, Nelson had an amazing quality of resilience that saw him preserve all the tribulations he went through in prison (Williams, 2014). The political prisoners with different beliefs, people of all colors except whites were imprisoned together with a world’s leader. Mandela and his comrades managed to unite them all through the creation of an underground structure. Later, the communists from the African National Congress established the “higher committee” on Robben Island. This informal organization was headed by Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Thabo Mbeki and used a strategy of a dialogue with the prison authorities, supported internal discipline among inmates, and disseminated among them the information which they received from the newly arrived prisoners. While working at the mine, the prisoners talked about politics and exchanged the information. Moreover, Mandela wanted to support his comrades in an effort to continue self-development. They regularly organized the clandestine lectures on various topics. Initially, Mandela was allowed to continue the correspondence course at London University in prison. Actually, he began studying during his trial; however, when the jailers have found secretly written Mandela’s memoirs, the authorities banned his studies for a few years. However, the inmates were constantly engaged in collective self-education by creating an underground “university”, where they could listen to lectures on various subjects. According to witnesses, Mandela studied the course of the Marxist political economy in prison, and he was particularly interested in history and literature. A great leader also studied English and the languages of the African peoples of South Africa. The prisoners called the island Robben Island University, and later it was called the University of Nelson Mandela. The book Essentials of Management by Andrew DuBrin considers leadership as the ability to inspire confidence and support among the people who are needed to achieve organizational goals (p.346). Nelson Mandela managed to unite people of all religions and political views, and this achievement made him an effective leader for all Black people.

There was an ongoing ideological debate, which directly influenced the political development of South Africa. Mandela argued with Neville Alexander, the leader of the “Non-European Unity Movement”, on the national question for almost a year. Mandela advocated the need for cooperation with the “white” and liberal opponents of apartheid. The prison controversy with Harry Gwala – the leader of the radical youth wing of the Communist Party, who argued that the collapse of the apartheid system must be accompanied by an anti-capitalist revolution in South Africa, was even of a greater importance. Mandela opposed this position by the thesis of a national democratic character of the coming revolution and managed to impose his point of view on most of the prisoners – and later the whole movement against apartheid. Actually, Mandela succeeded in these debates since he was a visionary leader and had good interpersonal relations –  he was a good speaker and decision-maker (Adair, 2010).

Mandela’s prestige and influence grew with each passing year. Robben Island, which supposed to be his place of political oblivion, turned Nelson Mandela into a martyr and acknowledged leader of the resistance to the racist regime. In the early seventies, the Minister of Justice of South Africa secretly began the negotiations with the famous prisoner, promising him freedom in exchange for a cessation of political activity. Mandela refused this offer with no doubts – his beliefs were much more important than freedom of a body. The leaders of the African National Congress saw the obvious crisis of the apartheid system. In 1976, the young protesters in Soweto, the African ghettos around Johannesburg, started arriving to the prison on Robben Island. They protested against the police who killed hundreds of pupils and students protesting against the forced teaching of Afrikaans language. Nelson Mandela, who was almost sixty years old, became the undisputed leader and a living symbol of the movement for young people. According to Andrew DuBrin (2006), “understanding leadership requires an understanding of leaders as individuals” (p. 355). Not surprisingly, Mandela was also a rebel in his school years; he protested against the poor quality of food for the students. For such protests, young Nelson Mandela was expelled by the school administration. Soweto was the place where the young revolutionary began his political biography. Nowadays, in Soweto, there is a small brick house with two rooms in which Mandela lived before going into hiding.

In December 1993, Mandela and Frederick Willem de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Five months later, the first democratic presidential elections were held. It was the first time in the history of South Africa when the representatives of all the races participated in the elections. According to the results of elections, Nelson Mandela became the first black president. In South Africa, he is called the “father of the nation”. Mandela served as a President from 1994 to 1999. One of the priorities for the new leader of the country was to solve the problem of housing for the poor, who mostly lived in slums. This President became an icon and legend not only for his country but also the whole world. During the years of his presidency, the great leader has done much to overcome the inequalities in South Africa; for example, he reversed discrimination when applying for a job and provided equal benefits for all the residents. When Nelson Mandela was a President, many new hospitals and houses were built; millions of people have got the access to water, electricity, telephone, and medicines. Being the President, Mandela has done much in the social sphere, but what was even more important, he preserved stability in the country that was a political turning point. He became an advocate for human rights and social associations even after his retirement in 1999 (Rotberg, 2012). It should be pointed out that Nelson Mandela was extremely keen on modeling his way towards leadership. Mandela achieved success in his leadership style because he was always an example for other people around him. He had a very high sense of dignity that helped him to get the followers from all over the globe. Nelson Mandela maintained his authority for many years – during the time in prison, his presidency, as well as after it. He retired from public life in 2004 when his health started deteriorating (Rotberg, 2012).

In 1997, Robben Island was opened to the public and turned into a museum. Four times per day, a ship departs from the Nelson Mandela Gateway to the Island, where the visitors can observe the most important places. Along the way, the guide tells about the history, nature and the inhabitants of the island. Undoubtedly, the main attraction is a complex with a prison cells. Paradoxically, it was a group of the former prisoners, many of whom were in jail at the same time as Mandela, who conducted the tours. Nelson Mandela had a precious gift to persuade people around, and in one of his wise quotes, he reiterated his esteemed ideals for a democratic and free society in which all people would live together in harmony enjoying equal opportunities (Kalungu-Banda, 2006).

To summarize, Robben Island has became a crucial point of freedom of mind and will. This island provided the leader of African nation Nelson Mandela with precious experience and meaningful lessons. Initially, the Dutch kept rebels from the Indonesian colonies on Robben Island; also, the British built a leper colony and exiled mentally ill people there. In the 1960s, the authorities have arranged political prison of the maximum security, which contained the activists of the resistance movement against apartheid. The future President of the South Africa arrived to Robben Island in 1964 after being accused of planning the guerrilla war against the regime of apartheid. Being imprisoned, Nelson Mandela often had to work in a limestone quarry on the island. Due to the blinding sunlight and fine dust in the limestone quarry, he got an eye disease that could not be cured. The island-prison, listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site, will always be a monument to this outstanding man. Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela will remain in the memory of the millions of people as the man who defeated apartheid in a peaceful way. He was an outstanding politician who has made a great contribution to the world democracy and struggled for human rights. Undoubtedly, this historical figure will always be known as an advocate of justice and human rights who dedicated all his life to other people.

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