Nelson Mandela: Political Activism and Bombings

A house in Johannesburg that Nelson Mandela lived in.
Nelson Mandela and his first wife, Evelyn, in 1944.

As a young adult, in the early 1940s, Nelson Mandela escaped a forthcoming arranged marriage and moved to a black township in the city of Johannesburg. Now, for the first time, he saw large black ghettos and masses of black people toiling in mines and factories owned by whites. He became aware of non-white people’s subordination in society, and subsequently involved himself with the ANC, a black opposition party.

Political activism

Mandela started a family and became a lawyer, but politics was his number one priority. As part of the ANC, Mandela organized mass demonstrations, agitated for change and peacefully defied apartheid laws that he considered unjust. The ANC protests put increasing pressure on the government, and eventually, in 1960, the party was banned and forced to go underground. Mandela and the ANC, at this point, decided that the time had come to use bombs and other violent tactics to get their way.

Bombings as a strategy

After 1960, Mandela went on to oversee bombing campaigns of power stations and other unmanned government buildings. The aim of these campaigns was to focus the world’s attention on South Africa and its unequal society, and thereby pressure the government to allow non-white people the same rights as whites. However, the scheme ended in Mandela and some of his co-conspirators being sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 for sabotage and for having plotted to overthrow the government.

Because of Mandela’s long prison sentence, the often-asked question of whether or not he would have been prepared to outright kill people to achieve his goals, as he had considered in some of his own writings, never really got an answer. Whatever the answer may have been, though, as explained in the next chapter, after his release from prison, Mandela would be known and remembered for peaceful political methods — not bullets and bombs.