Under apartheid, his people were barred from pursuing a better life. Mandela risked everything to fight against injustice.

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    Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944, when he helped set up its Youth League as a crucible for the party's firebrands. The white-supremacist National Party won election in South Africa in 1948 and institutionalized a racist constitution in a set of laws known as apartheid--literally, apartness. Blacks were banned from the better neighborhoods, the better jobs, the better farmland and the better schools. Most were banished to undeveloped areas in the country's interior, designated black homelands; if they were allowed into white areas, it was under strict conditions--pass laws--that prescribed when, where, who, how and why.

    Mandela, together with comrades like Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada, helped organize a series of mass protests. The demonstrators had a rallying cry. A speaker would call out, "Amandla," meaning "Power." The crowd would reply, "Ngawethu," meaning "Is ours." The regime did not share the sentiment and responded with violence, shooting dead 18 demonstrators in 1950. After that, Mandela began to favor fighting fire with fire. "For me, nonviolence was not a moral principle but a strategy," he wrote. "There is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon."

    Arrests, trials and bans--preventing him from leaving his home or meeting with more than one person at a time--became Mandela's life. It had been a period of some hope: old empires were crumbling. But the apartheid regime refused to bend to the winds of change that were sweeping Africa. Mandela and 29 others were arrested for high treason in 1956. In the meantime, his domestic life was changing. In 1958 he divorced his first wife Evelyn, who disliked politics, and married Nomzamo Winifred "Winnie" Madikizela. Nomzamo means "she who struggles (or undergoes trials)"--"a name," Mandela noted, "as prophetic as my own." The couple lived in Soweto (an acronym for South Western Townships) on a street that would later also be home to Desmond Tutu.

    The treason trials took five years--a time during which South Africa's security forces killed 69 protesters at Sharpeville, then imposed a state of emergency--but Mandela and his comrades were eventually found not guilty. On his release, Mandela immediately went underground, growing a beard and disguising himself as a gardener or, when he needed to travel, as a chauffeur, often driving a white accomplice, who would sit in a rear seat. It was a manner of living that came easily to him. "To be a black man in South Africa meant not to trust anything, which was not unlike living underground for one's entire life," he wrote. As he evaded capture for months, moving among safe houses and hideouts, the South African press gave him the nickname the Black Pimpernel--a reference to the Scarlet Pimpernel, a fictional escape artist and master of disguise concocted by an early 20th century writer.

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