Keeping Nelson Mandela in Prison Between 1964 and 1990 was a mistake

Whether keeping Nelson Mandela in prison between 1964 and 1990 was a mistake or not is a very controversial issue. His imprisonment and release from prison where very important. I will be examining six sources, some of which suggest it was a mistake keeping him in prison and others which do not.

First of all I am going to look at all the sources to discover which ones will help my investigation rather than hinder it. Source B is from a British newspaper, which was against apartheid. It was written before Mandela’s release and so would have taken into account the current opinion of the people concerned with the situation, so there for may be quite reliable. However, because the paper, ‘The Observer’ was anti-apartheid it can not be 100% reliable and correct due to the risk of bias. Also it does not mention the possibility that if Mandela was not imprisoned, he may have continued to e a terrorist in aid of black resistance.

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Source C is very different from source B, as it is a propaganda poster. This suggests it could be biased. However it does show us black resistance was still a threat before Mandela’s release in the February of 1990. This could be used to help explain whether after Mandela’s release black resistance became stronger. The poster also suggests that if the Afrikaner government hoped to prevent black opposition by imprisoning Mandela it was mistaken.

Source D from Mandela’s release day on the 11th February 1990 shows us an extract from his speech, and also his autobiography, “A Long Walk to Freedom.” In this he suggests prison changed him and his views. This would be an excellent piece of primary evidence to help answer the question if we could be certain that Mandela was not using propaganda to try and put forward a better view of him self which could benefit himself in future political situations. However the years following his speech shows Mandela as a statesman, living to his word “In the name of peace, democracy and freedom” and using the remaining years of his life to try and live up to it.

Source E is a statistical piece of evidence showing the election results from 1994. These results were published in a school textbook so we have no reason to believe the information is inaccurate. The source could be seen to suggest Mandela’s release hastened the end of apartheid so blacks were able to vote. It doesn’t tell us anything directly about Mandela’s imprisonment but it does imply that support for Mandela had grown while he was in prison. However there was still opposition to Mandela and his political views. But the proportion of blacks, who were more likely to support him, to whites was about 7:3 so resistance to him would not stand out a great deal.

Source F “Mandela’s Miracle” is taken from a series of magazines titled “Understanding Global Issues” being written for use in European schools. It being written for the use in schools it would have to be as fair and as to the point as possible, so students were given the overall view of the policy of Apartheid.

An extra source I am able to use is a letter from P.W.Botha, an ex-prime minister of South Africa who had strong African Nationalist views and fully supported apartheid. It was sent to Helsby High School in 1999 and in it he explains why he thought the system of apartheid collapsed. He does not mention Nelson Mandela and his involvement with the ending of apartheid, but suggests the policy ended because Britain and the USA no longer require support against communism. I believe this is because he would have a biased view due to his support for apartheid. Also he is unlikely to admit that the government were mistaken in keeping Mandela in prison. Therefore this source can not really help us to answer the question, as it does not tell us about Mandela’s imprisonment and his efforts against apartheid.

Keeping Mandela in prison could have been seen as a mistake for the white Afrikaners. This is for a number of reasons. The first being the fact it failed to stop violence. Mandela become famous in the 1960’s for his work with the MK, which concentrated on things like power stations and government offices. As he survived for 17 months underground, and always managed to be one step ahead of the police informing the media of the plans of the resistance organisation. This made the government very eager to catch members of the MK hoping it would crush opposition to apartheid and settle black resistance.

This however was not the case as the South African government was concerned about violence, due to certain events that took place such as the sharpeville rioting. Also, prior the arrest of Mandela and his imprisonment there were further riots, which took place in Soweto in 1976. This again is further proof that his imprisonment was a mistake and was that it was not the answer to settling black opposition. To prove this point further we can also look at source C that suggests Mandela’s imprisonment hardened black resistance and failed to kill support for the ANC and other black groups. Although the poster is obviously propaganda, bound to be biased and has no direct link to Mandela’s imprisonment it still shows there was resistance, and that the authorities plan to remove MK leaders in hope of less violent resistance from the blacks failed.

Other sources that suggest putting Mandela in prison was a mistake for the white Afrikaans are ones in which it is suggested he became a saint or ‘martyr’ during his time at Robin Island. Source B, a British view of Mandela’s imprisonment gives this suggestion. “It is hard to understand what the South African government believes it is achieving by keeping Mandela in prison. It has turned an ordinary man into a saint.” This source published by the observer on the 17h August 1988 also goes onto say that if Mandela hadn’t have gone into prison he would have displayed weakness like all other political leaders.

This suggestion is coming from someone with a particularly strong view that Mandela’s imprisonment was a mistake for the white Afrikaans. Source F also suggests that Mandela was very important for the transition from white oppression to black rule. “Mandela has shown himself to be the great peacemaker, remarkably free of bitterness after his bitterness after his 27 years in prison. His heroes stature has been further increased by his ability to work amicably with his former jailers.” What this source suggests is slightly different to what source B suggests.

Source F has the opinion that Mandela was a world class statesman whose talents were wasted in prison, where as source B is in the opinion that if Mandela had not gone into prison he would have “displayed weakness like all other political leaders.” It is difficult to say whether Mandela would have become the same person, as we will never actually know. Also from prison Mandela would have been able to see the failure of the violence towards the white Afrikaners and so may have decided to change from a terrorist to a peacemaker because of this. Out of prison he may not have seen the protests and marches in the same way, as he would have probably been involved. Therefore I believe his time in prison would have changed him and so I agree with source B when it says he would have shown “weakness of other political leaders” outside of prison.

Some people argue that Mandela’s imprisonment strengthened the African National Congress. However Mandela was not the sole reason the ANC began to become more dominant. The collapse of the Portuguese Empire, the weakening of white Rhodesia and the Soweto riots improved circumstances of the ANC. After 1974 they were able to set up guerrilla bases in Agola and Mozambique, close to the South African boarder. Also because of the Soweto riot many young, politically active blacks were fleeing South Africa and joined the ANC.

This meant the size of the party was getting bigger, strengthening the party even more. Oliver Tombo also had a part to play in the straightening of the ANC. What he had to say was listened to inside and outside the South Africa with ever increasing care. The Nationalists were known to try and reduce the popularity of the ANC by saying they were puppets of the communists, so Tombo had to frequently make the point the ANC were completely separate from the communists. During the rioting of 1984-86 Tombo called out for an all-out effort to destroy apartheid. In a broadcast on “Radio Freedom” he declared “We have to make apartheid unworkable and our country ungovernable.” Tombo was a modest man “I didn’t think I was playing an important role…I simply had a duty to perform.”

In fact his achievements were enormous. Meanwhile, Mandela, Tombo’s closest friend was in prison. By force of his personality, Mandela became the undisputed leader of many political prisoners on Robin Island. From what we can see, the longer he stayed in prison, the more he became an international hero, as “Free Mandela” became a township rallying cry. Source E also suggests this. It shows election results from 1994, they show that there was an overwhelming support for the ANC. However we do have to remember the blacks were aloud to vote again as it was the first non-racial election in South Africa and they occupied more than 70% of the population.

They do however suggest Mandela’s release hastened the end of Apartheid. Even though the source is not directly linked with Mandela’s imprisonment we know that it is more than likely to be reliable and also non-biased. This makes it easier to extract information from and make a trusted assumption, as there is no outlying information. From looking at whether or not Mandela made the ANC stronger, I think it is safe to say he did. Also that it could be seen as a mistake for the white Afrikaners, as the strength of the ANC managed to gain from his imprisonment.

An extra source I have not yet used is the TV program-“Mandela-Living Legend” produced for the BBC. From this I have been able to extract information suggesting, Mandela’s imprisonment was a mistake for the white Afrikaners as in the end he ended up helping South Africa by changing from a terrorist to a statesman. The documentary supports the idea he was treated as a special statesman. We see him talking to entertainers and world leaders. In the program there is also some discussion of his earlier years, and shows that his prison sentence changed him in the ways of discipline and effort into his work.

Also from the program we learn there is no doubt he used violence and terrorism until he went to prison where either it changed him, or that is where he changed as we cannot tell if he would have changed without his prison experiences. From source D we can also see it suggests prison changed Mandela. It is an extract from his own speech, on the day of his release. It also suggests he changed from a terrorist to a statesman, as his views were a lot different when he started his sentence. In BBC documentary we him confirm that he does not dislike white people only white oppression. Source D could be seen as propaganda but his actions since then correspond with the views he claims he had in his speech. If we look at this source from a different angle, we could suggest putting him in prison wasn’t a mistake, as we can see from his speech he is not blaming anyone, and so doesn’t want to gain revenge for the many years of white oppression.

This laid back attitude of Mandela’s could be said to have helped South Africa as he saw that conflict between two races caused more trouble. If this attitude was continued there may have been several more years of conflict and violence. However when he came into power Mandela decided not to gain revenge by reversing the situation and beginning an era of black oppression and instead became the peacemaker between the two races, this meant the aggravation between the two races could begin to stop.

From looking at all the evidence and having the use of my own knowledge I still believe it is difficult to find out whether Mandela’s imprisonment was a mistake or not. After analysing all the sources together we are able to see the fuller picture, however when looking at some sources individually we can see that they do not prove a specific point. This is most present in sources C, the poster issued in 1985 by the United Democratic Front (UDF), as there is no real link to Mandela’s imprisonment and the issue of whether it was a mistake or not. Also in source E, the election results from 1994 from a book written for use in British schools entitled “South Africa 1948-94” by Rosemary Mulholland. Again there is no real link with his imprisonment and the actual question for which we are analysing the sources. However it does suggest more relevant for which I have been able to use in the answering of this question, such as how Mandela’s imprisonment increase support for the ANC and such like.

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