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“Madiba: “Nelson Mandela” and “Fidel Castro. Life of Revolution”” Essay

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Updated: Jul 30th, 2022

Since the first hierarchic systems appeared in society, the figures of political leaders have inevitably been at the center of public attention. Chiefs, emperors, and presidents have been ruling the destinies of whole nations and defining the course of history. When their policies ceased to satisfy the needs of the population, protests emerged and new leaders came to the fore giving hope to millions for a better life and a just world. Among such leaders of the twentieth century, one can observe two personages who embody whole eras in the life of their countries and whose actions have lead to a sharp turn in the course of events in the world political arena.

So significant is their political legacy that their lives and ideas have found reflection in multiple informative sources, among which are video biographies Madiba: The Life and Times of Nelson Mandela (directed by Robin Benger) and Fidel Castro: A Life of Revolution (directed by Terence McKenna). Featuring various aspects of the life course of the two leaders, the videos provide an insight into the events that contributed to the development of personalities and reveal both the similarities and the peculiarities of their actions, ideals, and achievements. The present essay aims at focusing on the details of Mandela’s and Castro’s biographies and the features of their characters which have determined the nature of their political activities.

Learning about the childhood and background of both leaders, one reveals a striking semblance. Both were born to relatively prosperous families which could provide a worthy education to their children who proved bright enough to be top students. As their university majors, both Castro and Mandela chose jurisprudence, and both of them subsequently worked as lawyers, often for free, as they were protecting the rights of poor people. Their formative years went under the sign of political education and activity. Nelson Mandela attended the meetings at the Royal Kraal where he listened to the debates over the burning issues of the time and learned a lot of things that further on influenced his leadership style, and the ideals of equality and democracy with minority right firmly established in his mind with a view to eradicating the social injustice that flourished in his country torn apart by the policy of apartheid. Fidel Castro developed an interest in Karl Marx’s theories, attempting to understand the historical process and to figure out the ways to overcome the poverty, illiteracy, and lack of medical care that brought his country to misery. Both the Cuban and the South-African ideologists openly and repeatedly displayed their active political positions, which consequently lead to Mandela’s expulsion from the Fort Hare University.

Further on the paths of leaders followed a course of severe and violent obstacles on the way they envisaged for their countries to achieve an ideal of constitutional states with equal rights and freedoms. Both Castro and Mandela rebelled against the existing regimes, but while Castro intended to overthrow General Batista by force, as a reply to the latter’s forceful capturing of power, Mandela preferred the way of nonviolent resistance to apartheid policy, resorting to armed struggle as a last way-out. On their way to approaching the ideals, both of them were aided and supported by loyal friends: the South-African Oliver Tambo was a central figure in the African National Congress playing a key role in the anti-apartheid movement, and the Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara acted as a major figure in the Cuban revolution and the military operations in Congo.

Castro’s and Mandela’s open and active opposition to the existing regimes did not go unnoticed, and the governing parties reacted by multiple trials and arrests. But while fortune smiled on Fidel Castro, and he was graciously released under general amnesty from General Batista and he escaped to Mexico in order to assemble new revolutionary forces, Nelson Mandela’s confinement was much more prolonged and tedious, extending to as much as twenty-seven years on Robben Island, in Pollsmoor Prison, and in Victor Verster Prison. But even the humiliating segregation policy and the restrictions to communication did not break down Mandela’s stoic spirit, and when in 1985 he was offered freedom in exchange for his renunciation of struggle, he proudly replied, “Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts”. His resilience and fortitude under the hard blows of fate are exemplary, resembling the revolutionary determination of the Cuban leader who had the willpower to stand his ground and encourage the Cuban population to unity and patriotism even in the times when the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba was left alone in face of its mighty opponent, the USA.

“The struggle is my life”, said Nelson Mandela, and this statement can be applied to both of the champions for independence. However, the ideals and methods approved by them differed drastically: while Mandela’s action was that of unaggressive though vigorous struggle, Castro led the way to his dream through a gory path of war, terror, and dictatorship. Hence comes Fidel Castro’s debatable position in the world’s opinion both as a tyrant and a savior, while Nelson Mandela is seen as an undisputed messenger of peace and equality to the world community.


Kapoor, S. (2013). The life and times of Nelson Mandela: A long walk from prisoner to president.

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IvyPanda. "Madiba: "Nelson Mandela" and "Fidel Castro. Life of Revolution"." July 30, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/madiba-nelson-mandela-and-fidel-castro-life-of-revolution/.


IvyPanda. 2022. "Madiba: "Nelson Mandela" and "Fidel Castro. Life of Revolution"." July 30, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/madiba-nelson-mandela-and-fidel-castro-life-of-revolution/.


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