Mandela in 1956

Mandela in 1956 Visual Arts Biographies Famous People Social Studies Tragedies and Triumphs

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela describes this picture as:  "Tense Times, 1956."

There were several reasons for tension that year, including an arrest for Hoogverraad ("High Treason).  Just after dawn, on the 5th of December that year, the police knocked on the door of Mandela's home:

I walked with them to the car.  It is not pleasant to be arrested in front of one's children, even though one knows that what one is doing is right.  But children do not comprehend the complexity of the situation; they simply see their father being taken away by the white authorities without an explanation. . .

. . . This was the swoop the government had long been planning.  Someone smuggled in a copy of the afternoon edition of The Star, and we learned from its banner headlines that the raid had been countrywide and that the premier leaders of the Congress Alliance were all being arrested on charges of high treason and an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the state.  (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, pages 199-200.)

In total, 156 people were accused.  Of them, "there were one hundred five Africans, twenty-one Indians, twenty-three whites, and seven Coloureds."

There were other reasons for Mandela's tense times - more personal reasons:

Even before the trial, my marriage to Evelyn had begun to unravel . . .

. . . My devotion to the ANC and the struggle was unremitting.  This disturbed Evelyn.  She had always assumed that politics was a youthful diversion, that I would someday return to the Transkei and practice there as a lawyer.  Even as that possibility became remote, she never resigned herself to the fact that Johannesburg would be our home, or let go of the idea that we might move back to Umtata. . .

. . . We had many arguments about this, and I patiently explained to her that politics was not a distraction but my lifework, that it was an essential and fundamental part of my being.  She could not accept this.  A man and a woman who hold such different views of their respective roles in life cannot remain close.

. . . In 1955, she gave me an ultimatum:  I had to choose between her and the ANC.

. . . Evelyn and I had irreconcilable differences.  I could not give up my life in the struggle, and she could not live with my devotion to something other than herself and the family.  She was a very good woman, charming, strong, and faithful, and a fine mother.  I never lost my respect and admiration for her, but in the end, we could not make our marriage work.

. . . Following the breakup, Thembi would frequently wear my clothes, even though they were far too large for him; they gave him some kind of attachment to his too-often-distant father.  (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, pages 205-209.)

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Feb 24, 2020

Media Credits

Photo by Ian Berry/Magnum, online courtesy ANC (African National Congress) web site.

Quoted passages from Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela.


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