In the language Afrikaans, apartheid means separateness. In South Africa apartheid grew to be a system that discriminated against black South Africans. Nelson Mandela and others fought long and hard against this discrimination.
From 1948 until early 1994, apartheid was the law in South Africa. Segregation based on race was legal even though it violated basic human rights. Apartheid separated every aspect of people’s lives: Where they lived, worked, and where they went. People had to carry identification and get permission in order to go to the city. It controlled what they did, and how they interacted with others.
People in South Africa were segregated into three categories: white, Black (African), Coloured (mixed race), Indian (or Asian). In 1958 Blacks were denied citizenship. There were separate schools, buses, shops and hospitals for Blacks and Coloured people. The services for these people were below the standard provided for the minority whites. Even laws were different. A Black man found raping a white woman for example could expect years in prison, whereas a white man raping a Black woman would probably be charged a small fine.
In South Africa the Black and Coloured people protested against this inequality. This led people Nelson Mandela to take action. Most of the initial protests were in the form of passive resistance. In one protest against apartheid Mandela publicly burnt his 'pass book'. Passes, or identification cards, had to be carried by all Black men. They were not allowed to leave their segregated district without a pass book. There was unrest among Blacks when the government tried to force women to carry passes.
Nelson Mandela worked with the ANC (African National Council) in order increase actions against apartheid. Mandela began to realize that passive resistance was not winning the fight. Therefore he attempted violent action. Plans were made to bomb places that were important for the apartheid system, such as electricity towers and government offices. The bombings were always planned to avoid hurting or killing anyone. After several bombings and being a wanted man, Nelson Mandela was arrested and tried for treason, which means plotting against the government and punishable by execution. Mandela was acquitted or found not guilty. However, in 1964, he was sentenced to life in prison.
Under the apartheid system, Mandela served nearly 27 years in prison. But he never gave up the fight. When Mandela was imprisoned at Robben Island he continued his work and teachings. In South Africa and around the world, Nelson Mandela's anti-apartheid messages gained attention and popularity.
There is probably no one who has done so much to end the rule of apartheid as Nelson Mandela. He was the voice of the people. He made the message heard around the world. Certainly Mandela did not act alone, but his voice and actions held real power and the battle against apartheid was eventually won.
After Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 Nelson Mandela went on to become president of South Africa. Apartheid officially ended, but there is no doubt that racism is still deeply rooted in the country. While Nelson Mandela is no longer president, he is highly respected and his voice is still heard. As a leader and a peacemaker Nelson Mandela was the leading force in the battle against apartheid. A battle worth fighting for and a battle won.