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Nelson Mandela: Before Prisoner, Beyond President

The given analysis will primarily focus on Nelson Mandela, who advocated and fought for ending apartheid, which was a segregation-based practice of dividing white people and black people living in the Republic of South African or RSA. It is important to note that for the majority of his adult life, Mandela spent in prison as a consequence of using primarily non-violent approaches, which resulted in mass shootings. Therefore, his fight towards equality shifted towards more aggressive means because he strived to achieve it with all methods available. Although he outlived the given segregation practice, he was able to complete his vision and “long walk to freedom” with worldwide success achieving Pan-Africanism’s further development and empowerment of not only South Africans but also Africans in general. Therefore, Mandela’s goal for equality, and development, and democratization of South African started before he became a prisoner and continued to live on and be impactful beyond his presidency due to its transcendence above RSA.

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In order to properly analyze the impact and role of Mandela in the development of South African and Africa in general, it is of paramount importance to overview his biography and major events of his life. The first black president of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was born in 1918. He attended a school where his teacher gave him an English name instead of an African name, Nelson, at the Clarkebury boarding institute, at several universities1. In 1943, Mandela took part for the first time in a protest against the rise in bus fares. In 1944, he became a member of the African National Congress, began to take part in the struggle against the apartheid regime, that is, the most extreme form of racial discrimination.

In 1961, Nelson Mandela led the fight against the apartheid regime. In 1962, Mandela was arrested by the authorities and imprisoned in Johannesburg Prison. Then he was sentenced to five years in prison, but in 1964 he was already sentenced to life imprisonment. He was imprisoned in solitary confinement in prison on Robben Island near the Cape of Good Hope. In total, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, and he was transferred from prison to prison2. During Mandela’s imprisonment, many international media outlets put pressure on the South African authorities. Mandela was released in 1990, and in 1991 became the leader of the African National Congress. His party took part in negotiations to end the apartheid regime. In 1993, Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1994, Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa and held this post until June 14, 19993. During his presidency, Nelson Mandela undertook a number of important socio-economic reforms to overcome inequality in South Africa. Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 96 on December 5, 2013, at his home in the suburbs of Johannesburg4.


White Inclusion

The very first and the most evident reason why Nelson Mandela’s message transcended South Africa and impacted the entire African continent through Pan-Africanism is can found in the fact that he did not express hatred or bitterness to white people but rather invited them to the cause. In other words, Mandela realized that his goal of liberation, development, and democracy needs and should involve white people as well despite them being the source of oppression during apartheid5. Such an approach ensured that his and the nation’s strive for multiculturalism, and African nationalism alongside its restoration towards equality was not built on the very harmful and damaging ideas and notions, which caused the apartheid regime in the first place. For example, during his infamous Rivonia Trial speech, he stated that he “have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities”6. In other words, the struggle for liberation was not solely targeted at black Africans but also white people and other races and ethnicities.

Pan-African Message Through Metaphorical Models

The second reason why Nelson Mandela’s impact transcended South Africa and contributed to the development of the entire African continent through Pan-Africanism is manifested in the fact that the message of the given individual’s work transcended through metaphorical meaning. In Nelson Mandela’s discourse, freedom is and needs to be presented as a reward, a long-awaited prize for the people. In Africa, the national question is determined by socioeconomic and political factors, traditions and beliefs, linguistic specifics. The president spoke about the need to recognize the originality of national cultures, their unique value. It is necessary to form political thinking, which is based on ensuring equal rights for every nation, meeting the interests of each nationality, tribal group, strengthening guarantees that exclude infringement of the rights of citizens on a national basis. The conceptual vector of the metaphorical model “freedom is the purpose” is aimed at creating an image of a long journey, a long search for the desired goal7. RSA, where human rights have been infringed for a long time, is presented and can be considered as a “valley of darkness”8. The president acts as a leader capable of leading people out of a dark, oppressive past into a valley of light. In accordance with African traditions, the concept of freedom is one of the main components of the perception of the world. Freedom personifies the leader who must rule the state and lead the people.

The metaphorical model “obtaining freedom is a military victory” carries the conceptual vector of a long struggle confronting the enemy oppressing Africans. The metaphorical model reflects the desperate war of the people for independence. Mandela’s desire to win independence for his country is presented as a war for his ideals, a struggle for the welfare of the land. For a long time, African leaders viewed armed struggle as the only means of resolving internal conflicts. However, the consequences of this war were millions of deaths, huge flows of refugees, and economic degradation. The people of Africa have gone through a lot of suffering. The conceptual vector of the metaphorical model “freedom is a treatment of human wounds” conveys the idea of creating a different social structure, where people will receive new opportunities.

Nelson Mandela believed that the African people, oppressed for centuries, should no longer suffer and be a slave. The metaphorical model “African people is a sufferer” carries a negative connotation and translates the need to free people from humiliation and oppression. The metaphors of the human body in political discourse are apt to describe both society and the state9. The bodily consciousness of a person appears initially in the formation of his ideas about himself, about the world, culture, and society. The metaphorical model “obtaining freedom is a hope throwing in the chest of people” translates the dreams of the people about creating a better society, freedom for every person.

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Freedom in the president’s ideas is defined as the endpoint of a long journey in search of an ideal society, a democratic system. The concept appears to be a reward for people who have endured oppression and deprivation for many years. A free society symbolizes the birth of a child, the birth of a new life. The establishment of a democratic society is metaphorically presented as a struggle for their ideals. War seems to be the only way to achieve social welfare and equality. The concept of freedom in the texts of N. Mandela is represented by metaphors of nature, broadcasting the beauty and strength of the African land, on which everyone can be happy.

The presented materials serve as yet another evidence of the significant differences that are found in the metaphorical designation of freedom in the African consciousness and the consciousness of peoples who for a long time live in conditions of democracy, national independence, and the absence of oppression associated with racial, gender, religious or other human qualities, with his political convictions or professional activities. The specificity of understanding freedom is closely related to the history and culture of the people, with the political structure of society and its compliance with the standards of democracy. The main direction in the policy of Nelson Mandela was the creation of a democratic society in which mutual respect and equality reigned10. Metaphors of construction create an image of the formation of a new state policy, the creation of a different political system. The President has always dreamed of creating a society where there would be no racial struggle and infringement of human rights, where every person would be free and happy. Metaphors reflect the emergence of a new social order after a long struggle and suffering, in which new values will reign.

UMkhonto we Sizwe or Spear of the Nation

The third reason why Nelson Mandela’s impact transcended South African and adhered to the core ideas of Pan-Africanism is rooted in the fact that his message and ambitions reached the international arena of recognition, behind which the main catalyzer was the necessary militaristic measures of liberation. By the end of the 1950s, a major change was taking place in Africa. The states of the continent, one after another, proclaimed independence, the mighty colonial empires collapsed. However, at the Cape of Good Hope, on the contrary, the repression intensified11. The watershed came in June 1960, when police fired on an African demonstration in the village of Sharpeville, killing 69 people. Soon the ANC was outlawed, and in 1961 it went underground and organized the military wing of the ANC “uMkhonto we Sizwe,” which means “Spear of the Nation”12. Soon the newspapers were full of reports of attacks on administrative buildings and economic facilities. At the same time, the manifesto “uMkhonto we Sizwe” was circulated in the country. During this time, this manifesto was accused of carrying out planned attacks on government buildings, in particular those related to the politics of apartheid and racial discrimination.

The sabotage activity of “uMkhonto we Sizwe” had the greatest scope in 1962-1963. In the future, the intensity of the struggle noticeably weakens, and this is primarily due to the introduction of new repressive laws in South Africa and the intensification of police terror, which led to mass arrests of both rank and file and leading members of the liberation movement. “uMkhonto we Sizwe,” according to the plan of its creators, was to gradually turn from a small sabotage organization into a well-trained and trained liberation army. It was decided to start implementing the plans for military training, as it will be many years before we create a sufficient core of trained fighters to start a guerrilla war. “uMkhonto we Sizwe” was to become the nucleus of the future National Liberation Army13.

However, Mandela never called for terrorism, and the creation of a military structure was a necessary measure. First, it was believed that policies of racial discrimination made African counter-resistance inevitable and that without clear leadership to steer popular outrage back on track, that outrage would have spilled over into reckless terrorism. Secondly, such methods proceeded from the fact that all legal methods of our disagreement with racist ideas of white supremacy were prohibited by law. It should be noted that the tactics of warfare were chosen by Mandela for practical reasons and in order to avoid casualties and to provide a better hope for relations between races in the future, which flowed from the ANC legacy of non-violence and racial harmony.

Subsequently, on August 5, 1962, Mandela was arrested, and for 40 years, the United Nations fought with all its might against apartheid, declared by the General Assembly a crime against humanity. The Security Council, which has regularly addressed this issue since 1960, regarded it as a crime against human conscience and dignity14. Relying on the world community, the UN has embarked on searching for a peaceful solution to the conflict. Activities aimed at achieving this goal included the diplomatic, economic and military isolation of South Africa, the development of international norms in relation to apartheid, and assistance to its victims and liberation movements.

The shooting of unarmed peaceful demonstrators in Sharpeville in March 1960 by the South African police marked a sharp turn in the struggle against apartheid. In 1962, a special body was formed, known since 1974 as the Special Committee against Apartheid. The committee began to play an active role in the international campaign against apartheid, officially announced by the UN in 196615. It called for the severing of trade, cultural, and sports ties with South Africa and, together with the Center against Apartheid, created in 1976, collaborated with governments, intergovernmental organizations, religious leaders, student and youth organizations in mobilizing public opinion to support UN resolutions against apartheid.

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Counterargument and Rebuttal

One might argue that the militaristic approach by Nelson Mandela through the use of uMkhonto we Sizwe defies the non-violent strategy, which makes it less legitimate for Pan-Africanism. In addition, one might also argue that Mandela’s impact did not transcend RSA and was a mere local achievement. However, it is important to note the fact that such an approach was utilized prior to the massacre at Sharpeville, and it is this event that was the turning point for Mandela’s approaches16. In other words, the oppressed always strived to achieve equality with the most humane methods available, but the ruthlessness of the oppressor forced the use of more aggressive measures. The armed wing did not target all white people, but rather the South African government, which was the source of the regime and segregation.

In the case of the impact of Mandela’s achievement, one should be aware that the transformation of South Africa affected the entire continent since the UN’s involvement serves as evidence for intentional recognition of the issue. For example, despite the UK and South Africa having a long and complicated relationship stemming from the history of slave trade and colonialism, the regular UK citizens protested in favor of Mandela while he was imprisoned17. UN also played a major role in bringing the problem to an international arena, where sanctions and other measured were undertaken to suppress the violent acts committed by the South African government18. In other words, Mandela’s influence transcended South Africa by making the issue of segregation and racial inequality a subject of international discourse.


In conclusion, it is important to note that Nelson Mandela devoted his life to end the practice of segregation and racial inequality. His fight began before becoming a prisoner of the oppressive system, where he strived to use non-violent means, which resulted in mass shootings and massacres. Although he changed his approach towards a more militaristic one, it is due to the fact that he was forced to do so in response to the ruthlessness of the government. The metaphorical models of his message, his armed wing, and white inclusion played a critical role in ensuring that the racial injustice taking place in South Africa became internationally recognized and its impacts transcended the nation towards the entire African continents through the ideas of Pan-Africanism.


Graham, Matthew, and Christopher Fevre. Boycotts, rallies and Free Mandela: UK anti-apartheid movement created a blueprint for activists today. The Conversation, 2020.

Ndebele, Njabulo S. Nelson Mandela and Black Lives. United Nations, 2020.

Sampson, Anthonny. Nelson Mandela: The Authorised Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

Sewpaul, Vishantie. “Politics with soul: Social work and the legacy of Nelson Mandela.” International Social Work 59, no. 6 (2016): 697-708.

Simpson, Thula. Umkhonto we Sizwe: The ANC’s Armed Struggle. New York: Penguin Random House South Africa, 2016.

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Thompson, Alex. An Introduction to African Politics. London & New York: Routledge, 2016.

Zeleza, Paul T. “Africa’s Struggles for Decolonization: From Achebe to Mandela.” Research in African Literatures 45, no. 4 (2014): 121-139.


  1. Anthonny Sampson, Nelson Mandela: The Authorised Biography (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 347.
  2. Ibid., 257
  3. Ibid., 331
  4. Ibid., 335
  5. Vishantie Sewpaul, “Politics with soul: Social work and the legacy of Nelson Mandela,” International Social Work 59, no. 6 (2016): 701.
  6. Paul T. Zeleza, “Africa’s Struggles for Decolonization: From Achebe to Mandela,” Research in African Literatures 45, no. 4 (2014): 133.
  7. Sampson, Nelson Mandela: The Authorised Biography, 345.
  8. Ibid., 378.
  9. Ibid., 491.
  10. Ibid., 411.
  11. Thula Simpson, Umkhonto we Sizwe: The ANC’s Armed Struggle (New York: Penguin Random House South Africa, 2016), 78.
  12. Ibid., 62.
  13. Ibid., 89.
  14. Ibid., 43.
  15. Ibid., 117.
  16. Alex Thompson, An Introduction to African Politics (London & New York: Routledge, 2016), 60.
  17. Matthew Graham and Christopher Fevre, Boycotts, rallies and Free Mandela: UK anti-apartheid movement created a blueprint for activists today (The Conversation, 2020).
  18. Njabulo S. Ndebele, Nelson Mandela and Black Lives (United Nations, 2020).

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