Mandela, who died December 5, is remembered as a freedom fighter who struggled against the racist oppression of his government and suffered incarceration for 27 years, although this 27 years was a shortening of a life term imposed on Mandela in 1964.
What was Mandela charged with?
Mandela was politically active during the 50s and 60s, during the reign of the apartheid government that was elected in 1948 by the whites of South Africa, the only citizens suffered to vote. He was a member and leader of a political party that opposed apartheid and sought equality for blacks in South Africa.
The apartheid government was characterized in large part by a series of laws it passed making racial segregation a legal order. Dissenting political parties and civil rights groups opposed these laws, which led the apartheid government to pass laws making such actions by opposing groups illegal also.
One such law was the 1950 Suppression of Communism Act. This act named communism as the social evil, but contained a definition of communism so broad that it could catch any politically dissenting idea or attitude in its net. Mandela was arrested for violation of this act several times in the early 50s and jailed for short periods. In 1952 Mandela was sentenced under this act to nine months incarceration with hard labor, but the sentence was suspended two years. Mandela's crimes were public speaking, membership in an anti-apartheid party, association with the South African Communist Party, and public protests.
During the next few years, the government responded to political protests and actions with laws such as the Public Safety Act, 1953 and Riotous Assemblies Act, 1956. These laws empowered the government to declare state emergencies and employ martial law for political protests, increase penalties for crimes when they were committed for political reasons, and made encouraging protests against laws, passive resistance against laws, and open-air meetings subject to criminal prosecution.
In 1955 the government allowed a huge gathering of various anti-apartheid groups. This meeting was known as the Congress of the People, and its main topic was the drafting of a manifesto of beliefs (which opposed the policies of the government) called the Freedom Charter. Many attendees of this meeting signed the charter. In 1956 156 of these people, including Mandela, were arrested and charged under the Suppression of Communism Act and Riotous Assemblies Act. This trial lasted four years and ended in acquittal.
In 1960 amidst country-wide unrest, the government proclaimed martial law under the Public Safety Act. Mandela was arrested and jailed without charge for several months until the state emergency was lifted and prisoners were released.
Later in 1960 the government passed the Unlawful Organizations Act, which made the political party Mandela led an illegal organization.
Shortly thereafter, Mandela decided that violence would be necessary to overthrow the apartheid government. Mandela directed a violent wing of his political party and went underground. The violence was confined to explosions where there would be no loss of life. Mandela traveled Africa and visited London, gaining support, funds, and guerrilla warfare training before returning to South Africa.
The government soon passed the General Laws Amendments Acts of 1962 and 1963 which made receiving training that could further "communism," and advocating change by violent means and with foreign aid illegal. It also allowed police detainment for 90 days without legal counsel or visitors, and unlimited detainment for sabotage.
In 1962 Mandela was caught and charged with incitement to strike and leaving the country illegally. He was sentenced to five years incarceration.
A year later, while Mandela was in jail, several other political leaders were arrested and Mandela was charged with them for sabotage and attempting to overthrow the state. This trial ended in 1964 and Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The trial and incarceration became a global issue. Many nations and the EU criticized South Africa for it, and many placed sanctions on the South African government. Mandela's wife labored throughout his jail term for his release.
Mandela was released in 1990 when the President of South Africa legalized his political party and released Mandela. This act was commemorated in the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, which was shared by the two politicians.