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

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    In 1961, after years of arguing for an end to nonviolence, the ANC authorized Mandela to set up a military wing. The party called its new unit Umkhonto we Sizwe--MK for short--meaning Spear of the Nation. Though the ANC executive was barred to white members, MK's membership was open to all, and Mandela immediately recruited several white communists, including Joe Slovo (a leader of the South African Communist Party) and others with expertise in demolition. He arranged for MK guerrillas to be trained in China, undertook a fundraising tour in independent African states, met British political leaders in London and underwent eight weeks of military training in Ethiopia. In December 1961, MK carried out its first acts of sabotage, bombing power stations in three cities.

    In August 1962, Mandela was arrested once again and put on trial for inciting labor unrest and leaving South Africa without permission. When he appeared in a Johannesburg court in front of his white peers--and saw their embarrassment at how their fellow professional was being prosecuted for his beliefs--he had an epiphany. "I was the symbol of justice in the court of the oppressor, the representative of the great ideals of freedom, fairness and democracy in a society that dishonored those virtues. I realized then and there that I could carry on the fight even within the fortress of the enemy." It was an insight that Mandela would need.

    He was sentenced to five years in prison. But that penalty would be extended dramatically after the government discovered an MK hideout at a farm in Rivonia outside Johannesburg. Among the documents found was what the state declared to be a plan for guerrilla warfare in South Africa with the assistance of foreign arms shipments. Defense lawyers insisted that the so-called Operation Mayibuye (a word roughly meaning to return to the beginning) was merely a proposal and that many ANC officials, including Mandela, believed it was unrealistic and unlikely to succeed if undertaken. Nevertheless, the court found Mandela guilty and extended his five-year sentence to life in prison.

    In a stirring flourish to the first act of his life, Mandela would use his third trial, the Rivonia case, as a stage from which to address South Africa. Risking the death penalty by admitting his membership in MK, he said, "During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

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