frontline: the long walk of nelson mandela

'The Black Pimpernel,' 1961-62

The Revolutionary

During the 1950s Mandela was banned, arrested and imprisoned for challenging apartheid. He was one of the accused in the massive Treason Trial at the end of the decade and, following the 1960 banning of the ANC, he went underground, adopting a number of disguises--sometimes a laborer, other times a chauffeur. The press dubbed him "the Black Pimpernel" because of his ability to evade police. During this time, he and other ANC leaders formed its armed wing--Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). Mandela was secretly appointed its commander in chief.
"At the end of the day...violence was the only weapon that would destroy apartheid." Nelson Mandela, 1959
"Monitoring Mandela (Four Police Letters)" These letters capture what it was like to be a banned political activist. Mandela's life was regulated by the apartheid government from whom he needed permission to leave Johannesburg to defend law clients or visit family. In the first letter, Mandela angrily responds to authorities who denied his request for a holiday trip; the other letters reveal the government's views of Mandela.
"Living Underground Requires a Seismic Psychological Shift" A short chapter from Mandela's memoirs offering anecdotes about life as a fugitive and his various hideaways and disguises.
"Life Underground With Mandela" In a white suburb of Johannesburg, Wolfie Kodesh, a member of the ANC's armed wing--MK--hid the fugitive Mandela in his bachelor flat for almost two months. Here are Kodesh's memories of that experience.
"I, Who Had Never Been A Soldier ..." This chapter from Mandela's memoirs recounts the plans he made and the books he read to prepare for waging violence against the apartheid government.
The Bomb Test Another reminiscence by Wolfie Kodesh, this time on the strategy and planning for launching, in 1961, the ANC bombing campaign against apartheid's symbolic buildings. Kodesh also details how Mandela joined in the testing of MK's first bomb.
Fatima Meer's Reminiscences A close friend for decades, she describes Mandela's "adventurous streak" during the Black Pimpernel days as well as his change of attitude following a trip to other African countries during the fugitive period.
Joe Matthews's Memories A close ANC associate and friend since the 1950s, Matthews recalls vividly the moment in 1952 when Mandela stood up at an ANC black-tie dinner and revealed his sense of his historic destiny as a future leader of South Africa. Matthews also recounts memories of Mandela's fearlessness during this period, and how he formed his ideas for MK and its armed struggle.
Ahmed Kathrada's Interview One of those sentenced with Mandela at the 1964 Rivonia Trial, Kathrada talks about Mandela's early clashes with communists and other resistance groups; Mandela's leadership during the Rivonia Trial; and Mandela's underground period and his famous beard.
home + young boy + revolutionary + prisoner + husband & lover + biographers + interviews
synopsis + anecdotes + chronology + discussion + map
tapes tapes & transcripts + transcripts + credits + press + site map + viewers & teachers' guide
frontline + pbs online + wgbh

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS