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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials – Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was the first democratically-elected president of South Africa and a lifelong foe of racism and oppression. Mandela became involved in the struggle against South Africa’s system of apartheid in the early 1940s, helping to form the African National Congress Youth League. Under Mandela’s leadership, the ANC adopted a more radical Program of Action, calling for strikes and acts of civil disobedience to protest apartheid. These actions led to Mandela’s eventual arrest and 27 year-long imprisonment. Released in 1990, Mandela worked tirelessly to peacefully end white minority rule. In 1993 he was recognized for his efforts with a Nobel Peace Prize.

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on Nelson Mandela.

SPEAR OF THE NATION The Spear of the Nation (uMkhonto we Sizwe in Xhosa) was the armed wing of the ANC. Mandela co-founded The Spear of the Nation in the wake of the brutal Sharpeville Massacre, in which white South African police killed over 60 peaceful protesters. Although the Spear of the Nation never posed a true threat to the apartheid government they were responsible for several notable acts of sabotage. The largest of these was the 1983 Church Street bombing against the South African Air Force.


In 1963 South Africa’s security police conducted a raid on Liliesleaf Farm, a safehouse for ANC and Communist Party activists in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia. Although Mandela was already in prison for inciting a strike, security police used the pretext of “incriminating documents” found at Liliesleaf to try him alongside the activists arrested there. During the following Rivonia Trial Mandela issued his famous Speech from the Dock, in which he claimed that he was “prepared to die” for his ideals of racial equality. Mandela did not die, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment.


Following his conviction during the Rivonia Trial, Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island in Table Bay, off the coast of Cape Town. Mandela spent 18 years in the Robben Island Prison along with close compatriots like Walter Sisulu. Although Mandela also spent time in Pollsmoor Prison, Robben Island is indelibly associated with his legacy of quiet dignity in the face of brutal repression.


F.W. de Klerk succeeded P.W. Botha as president of South Africa in 1989 following the latter’s stroke. De Klerk worked alongside Mandela to dismantle the apartheid system, with his National Party repealing the most restrictive apartheid rules. Following the first democratic election that swept the ANC into power, de Klerk served in a unity government with Mandela. De Klerk won the 1993 Nobel Prize along with Mandela for his efforts.


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 1995 by South Africa’s democratically elected government. The objective of the commission was to uncover the abuses of the apartheid era while not necessarily prosecuting those involved in these abuses. Chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the commission was made up of 3 committees: the Human Rights Violations Committee, The Reparations and Rehabilitation Committee, and the Amnesty Committee. The Commission published the complete results of its findings in 2003.


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

  • Visit this site to learn about Mandela’s long imprisonment.

  • Liliesleaf Farm remains an important piece of South African history.

  • The Sharpesville Massacre was one of the most brutal chapters in apartheid history and directly inspired Mandela to found The Spear of the Nation.

  • Watch this video to hear a brief excerpt from Mandela’s famous “Speech from the Dock.”


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