When Nelson Mandela began his campaign against the apartheid government of South Africa, he was dedicated to non-violent tactics. With Gandhi as his inspiration, Mandela saw how passive resistance and other non-violent measures could result in positive social and political change. He sought to do this as part of a racially united effort that brought together all the disaffected elements of South African society. As a prominent member of the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela united with Indian and communist elements to implement the Defiance Campaign. This involved massive—but peaceful—protests and boycotts.
South African authorities responded harshly to Mandela's actions. Many protestors, including Mandela himself, were arrested and physically assaulted by law enforcement. Mandela became dissatisfied with peaceful tactics. He grew to feel that oppressive state violence could only be countered by revolutionary violence. In 1961, Mandela helped create the militant wing of the ANC, which carried out acts of sabotage against the government. This resulted in Mandela's arrest and imprisonment for the crime of treason.
During his 27 years in prison, Mandela was forced to change his tactics once again. He focused on presenting a dignified image of himself and his cause to garner widespread international support. He clandestinely wrote his autobiography, which was smuggled out of prison and published overseas. He realized that taking direct and violent action was folly and would only beget more violence and repression. Instead, Mandela worked to sway the tide of public opinion to his side.
Even from his prison cell, Mandela effected change. His words led to international boycotts of South Africa, which stymied the country's economy. It also changed the opinion of much of the country's white youth. In some ways, they were beginning to hold much less racist views. This put a lot of pressure on the white-ruled government to be more inclusive and democratic. In 1994, South Africa held its first free democratic elections.
After his release from prison, Mandela stayed committed to his renewed stance of non-violence. He urged all South Africans to refrain from violent and retaliatory actions. He urged forgiveness and reconciliation so that the country could move forward free from the dark legacy of its past.