History, Civics & Language Arts Lessons
Grades 7–12

Welcome, Teachers:

This Madiba four-lesson unit helps students understand the character and actions of Nelson Mandela and others to end apartheid and establish a more equal and just society in South Africa. Students will also compare the anti-apartheid resistance movement with the civil rights movement in the United States.

Time: The four lessons can be completed individually in short 20-minute segments or as part of a complete unit.


• Student Informational Text Printable: “Madiba: Nelson Mandela’s Quest to End Apartheid”
Student Discussion Printable

Standards: World History, U.S. History, Government/Civics, and ELA. Click here for a Standards Chart (PDF).

Lesson Steps:

The four lessons (outlined further below) involve discussion activities based on the reading of student informational text.

These discussion activities can be done in one period split among small groups, or with the whole class in separate class periods. For each lesson:

1. Have students read the printable article “Madiba: Nelson Mandela’s Quest to End Apartheid” (more than once if necessary).

2. Divide the class into small groups of two to three students and have them discuss the questions relating to each lesson theme. Distribute the Student Discussion Printable, which has discussion questions for each lesson theme. You can also choose to divide the themes among the groups and have them answer one lesson’s questions.

3. Provide time for student discussion and answer any questions students have.

4. Bring the class together and have each group report their findings.

5. Complete additional Critical-Thinking Questions, Paired-Writing Activities, and Extension Activities with students. Click here for Additional Resources.

6. Optional: Have students watch the BET miniseries, Madiba, a biopic on the life of Nelson Mandela, (premiering February 1st, 2017). See viewing discussion questions below. Also distribute the Madiba Family Viewing Guide reproducible for students to use at home.

Objectives/Overview of the Four Lessons:

• Lesson 1: "Perseverance and Resilience"

(Reading Informational Text and Class Discussion)

In this lesson, students will understand the impact of apartheid on nonwhite South Africans, as well as the importance of perseverance and resilience in accomplishing goals.

• Lesson 2: "Collaboration and Alliance"

(Reading Informational Text and Class Discussion) In this lesson, students will identify ways Nelson Mandela collaborated with different people toward the goal of ending apartheid; analyze the costs and benefits of collaboration and alliance in reaching common goals.

• Lesson 3: "Qualities of Effective Leadership"

(Reading Informational Text and Class Discussion)

In this lesson, students will understand Nelson Mandela’s style of leadership in his effort to end apartheid.

• Lesson 4: "Civil Rights in South Africa and the United States"

(Reading Informational Text and Class Discussion)

In this lesson, students will compare and contrast important aspects of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa with the civil rights movement of the United States.

Lesson 1: Perseverance and Resilience

This lesson examines the apartheid policy in South Africa and the resistance movement against it. After reading the article, students will discuss questions relating to South Africa’s apartheid policy and the actions of the African National Congress (ANC). The class will explore key events as well as Nelson Mandela’s determined spirit against apartheid even while in prison.

Discussion Questions for Lesson 1 (these are included in the Student Discussion Printable)

• Describe the policy of apartheid and the impact it had on black South Africans .

• What similarities do you see between South African apartheid and racial segregation in the United States?

• After the massacre at Sharpeville, the ANC changed its strategy against apartheid. What do you think of this change in strategy and do you feel the ANC had no choice? Why, or why not?

• Identify ways Nelson Mandela showed resilience and perseverance in his struggle against apartheid while in prison.

Lesson 2: Collaboration and Alliance

This lesson explores how Nelson Mandela and members of the ANC collaborated with other groups to end apartheid. The contributions of other figures in the anti-apartheid movement are also examined. The power of collaboration is explored as students analyze Nelson Mandela’s policies to bring the country together after his election as president.

Discussion Questions for Lesson 2 (these are included in the Student Discussion Printable)

• Identify some of the costs and benefits of collaborating with other groups toward a common goal. Which is better, collaboration or going it alone, and why?

• Provide examples of how Nelson Mandela collaborated with different individuals and groups who also experienced the oppression of apartheid.

• Nelson Mandela understood the power of collaborating, even with his rivals. Discuss how Mandela was able to collaborate with then-president F. W. de Klerk to arrive at a mutually agreed-upon solution to end apartheid.

• Describe the outcome of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. How did it help South African blacks and whites come to terms with their history and find ways to get along?

Lesson 3: Qualities of Effective Leadership

In this lesson students will examine the leadership qualities of Nelson Mandela. They will identify ways Mandela displayed leadership in his efforts to end apartheid.

Discussion Questions for Lesson 3 (these are included in the Student Discussion Printable)

• Brainstorm five qualities that make a good leader. Explain why these qualities are important.

• Review the student article and list examples of how Nelson Mandela acted as a leader during the following times: while in the ANC, during his trial, while in prison, and as president of South Africa. Describe how the actions he took were effective at the time, later on, or not at all.

• Would any of these lessons in leadership be helpful to you in your life? Explain how.

Lesson 4: Civil Rights in South Africa and the United States

This lesson presents a different activity format in that students will read an additional brief description of the civil rights movement in the United States and compare that with what they’ve learned about the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. They will examine the two countries’ histories, their leaders, strategies, and successes and failures.

The additional description of the U.S civil rights movement is located in the Student Discussion Printable along with discussion questions for Lesson 4.

Critical-Thinking Questions for Lessons 1–4:

How did apartheid in South Africa and racial segregation in the United States negatively affect the educational, social, and political development of blacks in these countries? (Both policies took away basic human rights. Both policies were set up to make the targeted people feel different and less worthy.)

How does adopting a practice of collaboration, even with one’s enemies, as Nelson Mandela did, help provide advantages when taking on difficult or challenging tasks? (Collaboration brings more people to the process to contribute their ideas and talents. Finding the areas where you and your adversaries have common interests can open up opportunities to collaborate to resolve issues and make the negotiation or resolution of more challenging topics less difficult.)

Explore one of Nelson Mandela’s leadership qualities and discuss its costs and benefits. Which is your favorite and why? Have you ever used any of Mandela’s leadership qualities in your own life? Explain with examples. (Answers will vary.)

Paired-Writing Activities for Lessons 1–4:

• After completing one or more of the four lessons, have students write down a question or two that they had about the lessons or discussion. Have them trade their questions with another student and have them write answers to their partner’s questions. Then return the answered questions. After students review their answered questions, ask for a sampling of questions and answers in a full group discussion.

• Have students examine the question, Was Nelson Mandela a freedom fighter or a traitor? Organize them into pairs and have each student take one or the other view. Ask them to list quick statements that support the view they’ve been assigned. Then have them exchange lists and write a paragraph answering the question using the other student’s notes. Have them trade back their essay paragraphs and discuss.

Extension Activities for Lessons 1–4:

• Have students build an interactive timeline of South Africa’s struggle to end apartheid and establish a full democracy from 1900 to 1999. Students should research major events that occurred during this time period. They can use examples from timelines they find online or at the library. Have students create digital slides asking Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How to guide their research. They can also include images and videos in their production. Students can present these as blog posts or podcasts.

• Have students create a political cartoon presentation comparing South African apartheid and segregation in the United States. In their analyses, they should: describe the event or issue depicted in the cartoon; deconstruct each cartoon by explaining the use of labels, symbols, and caricatures they represent; and explain the cartoon’s message. Students may choose to give their presentation on a poster, PowerPoint slide show, or in digital media.

Additional Resources:

MADIBA Viewing Discussion Questions

The following questions are designed for students to discuss in conjunction with watching the BET miniseries, Madiba, a biopic on the life of Nelson Mandela (premiering February 1st, 2017). These questions also appear on the Madiba Family Viewing Guide printable that students can refer to at home.

1. Mandela’s original name, Rolihlahla, means troublemaker. How is this name a fitting description of Mandela’s life?

2. Nelson Mandela had many values that helped him succeed, including perseverance, resilience, loyalty, and conviction. Cite examples from the series where these were displayed.

3. Have you ever faced a situation in your own life where you kept fighting to overcome an obstacle despite drawbacks? Explain how you fought the obstacle and the result of your efforts.

4. In what ways were the struggles in South Africa similar to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States? In what ways were they different?

5. At the end of the series Mandela says, “The truth is that we are not yet free.... We have not yet taken that final step of our journey, but the first step in a longer, more difficult road.” How does this quote relate to the struggle for racial equality today?

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