Laws represent the foundation of an organized society. Their general idea is to set boundaries and keep control so that people can live together peacefully. Although necessary, some of them are unjustified, suppressing certain ethnic groups and breaching basic human rights. Thankfully, some individuals have decided to take action and, although breaking some laws, try to fix the world.
One of them was Nelson Mandela, a South African anti-racist activist, philanthropist and a voice for fairness and justice for all. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, he was awarded a Nobel prize for peace because he fought non-violently for rights of fellow countrymen. His revolutionary activism was especially important during the time of apartheid (meaning “separateness” in Afrikaan language), a race-discriminatory policy that lasted for nearly 50 years.
This South-African system had been founded and controlled by the white Afrikaan colonists’ National Party which took over the government in 1948, as National Geographic wrote. Its main purpose was for a white race to gain privilege and predominate over indigenous races, especially black ones, in the country. It is strange how the policy managed to prevail, because it appeared after the World War 2, when most of the countries have already become anti-racist, officially not accepting such systems anymore.
The most obvious way how the white minority made itself superior was with a racial segregation. People were divided into groups depending on the colour of their skin or ethnicity – the whites, blacks, coloured (mixed race) and Indians (or Asians). Based on their classification, they were given orders exactly in which area across the country they would have to live. In many stories, even families got separated.
Everyone was restricted from socially interacting with anyone different and could not marry a person of another race. The same principle stood for public facilities, like schools, hospitals, churches and metros – they were all made separately. A purpose of separating races was to suppress any non-white culture and enable the whites to progress much more rapidly in development. Whites, the only privileged group, lived in the most developed parts of the country and also had political rights. In addition, they were the only ones adequate for better-paid jobs.
On the other hand, economic situation of black, coloured and Indian residents was way worse. They worked mostly as miners and their salaries were far from sufficient to afford a decent life. Another strict rule was to obey the curfew and be exactly where it was said at a certain time. They had no right to own a property and no freedom to travel, even just from town to town. The country we live in should be a place where we feel safe, but learning about what these people had to experience, I sorrowfully believe that what they saw as their homeland was not a home, but only a giant prison.
Race discrimination had been present in South Africa even before the National Party took office. But, apartheid made it even more severe by passing several laws or acts, making mentioned segregation and other racist policies legal. Even worse, those who broke these inhumane rules or tried to fight against it were not always punished by a court, but in many cases got hurt or even killed without hesitation by authorities’ forces.
Contradicting was very dangerous in those times. But, aware of possible consequences, individuals like Nelson Mandela decided to resist the system and stand up for rights. Being a member of The African National Congress (ANC), a group that fought for racial justice, he organised and participated in nonviolent protests and succeeded to unite the nation. So many South Africans began supporting him that he became a serious threat to the authorities. Once the police found some information and future plans regarding his activism, he got charged with sabotage and was sentenced to life.
Even though he was kept behind bars and had basically no connection to the outer world, the movement he had created, resisted and was determined to not back off no matter what. Due to political pressure from other countries and a threat of a civil war, a new South African president in those times, de Klerk, set Mandela free after 27 years of imprisonment. But Mandela knew that apartheid did not magically end with his release, so he proposed a new constitution which would, among giving people other rights, allow every adult citizen to vote. His suggestion was heard, and a few years later, in 1994, he smoothly won the first ever democratic election in his country and therefore became the first black South-African president – completely justifiable, considering that a vast majority of credits for abolishing one of the most racist systems in the world can be given to him.
In the time of the activism against apartheid that Mandela led, he broke many laws (ironically, he was a lawyer by profession) rebelling against the government – but, although his actions were not legal, they were definitely legitimate. Living as a non-white automatically meant being supressed, poor and without rights no matter your talents or hard work, so he knew that the laws that were in force at a time were unjust. Because he did what he believed was morally right, he indeed paid a high price and got punished.
But because he impacted so many people and his movements continued to grow, today millions of South Africans can freely walk around, go to school, work a job of their choice, live together with their ethnically diverse families and be normal citizens with rights they deserve. I think that it was definitely unjustified to imprison him, but I adore him for everything he did – sacrifice his life to achieve rights for others to live the life they deserve.
Mandela is also a great example of how one voice can change the world. Yes, it sounds very cliché, and I agree that realistically one person can not fight against thousands of policemen to achieve justice. What I mean is more how a voice of only one human being, who believes that people should be treated differently, can have such an impact to create movements and join people together – that is how one voice can change the world, because unity is a power nothing can beat.