Why was Nelson Mandela imprisoned?
During the apartheid era, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for a number of crimes. However, the real reason that he was imprisoned is because he was working to get rid of apartheid in South Africa.
The actual charges on which Mandela was imprisoned had to do mainly with his desire to overthrow the South African government. Mandela was accused of having recruited people to participate in the violent overthrow of the South African government. For activities such as these, he was actually listed as a terrorist by the US government. Mandela did not really try to defend himself against these charges and instead used his trial as an opportunity to air his political views. He was therefore convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
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In 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested and imprisoned for conspiring to use terroristic tactics against the South African government with the help of his anti-apartheid group, the African National Congress (ANC). He ended up spending 27 years in jail for this charge. His prison sentence was split between Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. When Mandela was set free, he would famously become the first South African president of African descent that South Africa had ever known.
But Mandela’s road to spend 27 years in prison was less than straight forward. Nelson Mandela grew up in a family that believed education to be incredibly important. Mandela went to the best schools and ultimately became an esteemed lawyer. As he grew older, he was astonished to visit urban centers of South Africa and see the pain and suffering of apartheid. He vowed to work hard to end the discriminatory practice.
He became involved with other young, idealistic figures such as Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo. The ANC (founded in 1912) first focused their movement on nonviolence protests, strikes and boycotts in the spirit of Mohandas Gandhi’s campaign against the British in India. They believed that civil disobedience was the key to bringing justice to the people of South Africa. However, there would soon be a schism in the ANC.
The National Party broke away from the ANC and began using increasingly violent tactics to protest apartheid. Their policies culminated in the violent Defiance Campaign of 1952. This surge of violence from the National Party put all anti-apartheid groups on police radar and ANC leaders became targets of police harassment and brutality. Mandela was even arrested and charged with treason in 1956, but he was acquitted.
After his acquittal, the ANC had to go underground. Mandela would wear disguises when he left his house, afraid to be seen or followed by officials. Because the ANC were now denied legal channels of protest as they had used before, they turned to more subversive and treasonous tactics that involved plotting violent attacks. The South African police shot 69 unarmed demonstrators in the Sharpeville massacre in 1959, an event which left anti-apartheid protestors stunned. They believed that the only way to counteract such senseless violence was with violence.
In 1961, an ANC military organization known as Unkhonto we Sizwe “Spear of the Nation”, with Mandela at the helm, plotted to carry out acts of sabotage and violence against the apartheid government. Mandela and other leaders were captured and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 for their violent plots.
Many guards who tended to Mandela during his imprisonment remarked that his spirit never broke. Even though he slept on a thin mattress each night and had little to eat (black prisoners received far less and lower quality food than white prisoners), he remained steadfast and focused on his goals. Prison officials remarked that any guard who tended to Mandela for too long would fall under his spell. “The Mandela Effect” was well known. Even in the bleak and depressing environment of a prison, Mandela could make even the most hardened and racist guards human and compassionate towards him. In his later years, he denounced violence and once against took up the belief that civil disobedience, boycotts and strikes were the better road to victory.