Preceding the National Party's introduction of the system of apartheid, Mandela helped form the ANC Youth League in 1944 which aimed to transform the ANC from using tactics such as petitions and deputations to a more non-cooperation mass political movement. This change was then implemented by the ANC in 1949 as their "program of action" as a result of the harsh discriminative laws against the African's. The program advocated the use of boycotts, strikes, and civil disobedience in peaceful protests against apartheid. The "program of action" called for mass resistance to Afrikaner authority. The transformation instigated by Mandela was significant as it set off the campaigns to be executed in opposition to apartheid.
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In May 1950, Mandela, the ANC and other organizations organized a strike against the racial policies of the government. The strike leads to unnecessary shootings by the police. This event caused deep resentment amongst African's. Consequently, the ANC organized a national day of protest on June 26th, 1950. In 1952 the ANC performed mass action in defiance of apartheid laws. Mandela played a significant role in the arrangement of volunteers. He traveled around the country organizing resistance to discriminatory legislation and was successful in gaining support in opposition to apartheid and increasing the awareness of the unjust policy of apartheid. The defiance campaign involved the volunteers taking part in peaceful black protests against the apartheid system and the disobedience of apartheid laws. This event did not result in any positive changes to the apartheid laws for the African race; however, Mandela's role in gathering volunteers around the country was significant as he was able to increase support through ANC membership which rose from 7,000 to more than 100,000. The increased support gave encouragement and hope for the freedom of the African race.
In March 1960, more peaceful protests occurred involving a campaign against the pass laws. Anti-apartheid activists surrounded police stations protesting and challenging the police to arrest them. The campaign turned violent as the police fired at the activists, killing 69 people and wounding 180. Following the "Sharpeville massacre", the ANC was banned and apartheid laws were made harsher. Racial discrimination was stronger and the government was still unresponsive to end apartheid; however, the Sharpeville massacre was significant as it was the catalyst for the changing tactics and strategies Mandela helped introduce and the ANC adopted for the future. Mandela said, "it would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force ". In 1961, the ANC embarked on a new strategy and policy: armed resistance.
Mandela's increased frustration with the government's lack of responsiveness to end apartheid led to the formation of a military wing of the ANC: "we have no choice but to hit back by all means within our power in defense of our people, our future and our freedom ". Mandela was instrumental in the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) in December 1961. Mandela co-founded the Spear of the Nation that was underground and an illegal fighting force: "It will be the fighting arm of the people against the government and its policies of race oppression ". This changing tactic was significant as executing acts of violence to government practice would be more harmful than peaceful tactics and thus create a greater effect on the government. By Mandela creating violent tactics in the opposition of apartheid, he was creating a stronger resistance and power in defense of South African's. Mandela organized cutting telephone wires, blowing up of power pylons and explosions of government buildings (December 1961) in 3 cities including Johannesburg. Sabotage was performed in areas causing minimal loss of life. It was specifically used as a tactic by Mandela to threaten the government in the hope that a positive change would come about for the African's. If this was to occur, the Spear of the Nation would not have to impose guerilla warfare, of which training was already underway if need be.
The Spear of the Nation was also significant as it was a shock tactic used against the government: "Refusal to resort to force has been interpreted by the government as an invitation to use armed forces against the people without any fear of reprisals ". Thus, when the underground fighting force performed their first actions of sabotage, the government would not link the sabotage with the ANC as their manifesto had secretly changed, and so the sabotage would create a threat towards the government.
Mandela's strategic thinking and how he went about strategizing for the Spear of the Nation was significant in gaining international media attention. In 1962, whilst Mandela was underground planning the sabotage against the government, he illegally left South Africa and visited many African states, as well as Britain in the hope to receive advice and gain the support of the ANC and the liberation of all South African people. This was a significant tactic of Mandela's as he was making sure that all of South Africa and the world would know what's going on. Mandela was cordially received by senior political leaders in several countries. In Ethiopia, Mandela addressed the Conference of the Pan African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa (PAFMECA) and received its fullest support. Through Mandela gaining support internationally and increasing the awareness of the black's suppression and struggle in South Africa, he was increasing the opposition to apartheid. With the support of other countries, the South African government would feel threatened and pressured.
Mandela was arrested upon his return from traveling in 1962 for exiting the country illegally. He was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, however, when the Spear of the Nation was discovered as well as Mandela's link to the creation, he was put on trial for "recruiting people for training in sabotage and guerilla warfare for the purpose of violent revolution" and sentenced to life imprisonment.
In prison, Mandela stood by his stance for a democratic society. He still rejected all forms of white domination and the policy of apartheid. Mandela continued to urge the ANC and its supporters to continue the fight towards the abolishment of apartheid. His messages of encouragement weren't easy to receive by the ANC due to monitoring of writing materials and correspondence; however, a significant message from Mandela was smuggled out of Robben Island prison under very difficult conditions. Mandela's message (written 1976, published 2 years later) encouraged the ANC and its supporters to keep fighting and continue united mass struggle: "Unite! Mobilize! Fight on! Between the anvil of united mass action and the hammer of the armed struggle, we shall crush apartheid! " During Mandela's imprisonment, he became renowned as the most significant black leader in South Africa grew in popularity worldwide and became an influential figure of the resistance to apartheid. Due to Mandela's popularity and powerful influence, his message was significant for the opposition of apartheid as he gave faith to the ANC and its supporters and encouraged them to continue the struggle.
During the course of Mandela's imprisonment, he was offered six chances of freedom on condition that he "unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon". Mandela rejected all these offers as he believed this to be giving up and submitting to the government's repression. By Mandela not renouncing violence, he was providing hope for the struggles against apartheid. If he was to renounce violence, he would be agreeing to abide by the apartheid laws and Mandela was unprepared to do so. Upon his sixth offer of release in 1985, Mandela denied the offer and said: "I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free ". Mandela maintained his stance on what he believed and this was significant for the fall of apartheid to occur.
In 1990, Mandela and the former president of South Africa, de Klerk, finally worked towards negotiating an end to apartheid. Mandela was released from prison on February 11th and with the eventual complete liberation of South Africa in June, Mandela denounced the ANC's armed struggle.
Nelson Mandela was the most significant figure in opposing apartheid to 1991. He helped prompt peaceful protests against the government and later on incorporated illegal armed resistance against apartheid. Even though Mandela was imprisoned as a result, he never gave up on the struggle that was his life. Through the sheer determination and resilience of Mandela over nearly four decades, he was able to destroy the apartheid system, achieve his ideal of a democratic society, win liberty for South Africa and create full national rights and equality for all the people of South Africa.