Looking backwards in human history, one can find many people who, wanting to fight for their own rights, ended battling for what is morally good and correct for a whole country. Born in different nations, of different cultures and struggling for different reasons, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and Estela Barnes de Carlotto have demonstrated, through direct and non-violent action, that common people can obtain welfare for themselves, for their contemporaries and for future generations. The childhood and adolescence of these two people show parallels but also great differences.
Mandela was born in 1918 in a village in South Africa, and groomed to adopt high office as Chief after his father’s death. He heard his elders’ stories about his ancestors’ braveness when fighting for their fatherland and wanted to bestow freedom to his people. His primary education took place at a local mission school and his secondary studies at a Wesleyan school of some repute in Healdtown. After that he went to University and obtained a Bachelor of Arts Degree, which he finished by correspondence after being suspended for joining in a protest boycott. Estela Barnes, born in 1930, was the only child in a lower-middle class home.
She was a very good student; she liked theatre, reciting poems, singing, and being the conciliator between their class mates every time they had differences. She went to the Hermanas de la Misericordia Secondary School, a catholic institute administrated by very progressive nuns and later she studied to be a teacher. Strong family traditions and religion as well as study, which are similar at some points, but differ at some others, shaped both personalities. Living in countries where an important part of the population was being deprived of their basic rights, a turning point would take place in their lives.
Mandela, together with a small group of young Africans, become part of the African National Congress – ANC – and entered politics in order to transform ANC in a mass movement for national emancipation, and the African National Congress Youth League – ANCYL – was founded with the objective of attaining the redistribution of the land, education, culture, trade union rights and representation in the Parliament for all South Africans. “Mandela soon impressed his peers by his disciplined work and consistent effort and was elected as the league’s National Secretary in 1948.
By painstaking work, campaigning at the grass-roots and through its mouthpiece Inyaniso (“Truth”) the ANCYL was able to canvass support for its policies amongst the ANC membership. ” On March 24th 1976, a coup d’etat took place in Argentina. The military regime conducted the country under a policy of terror. 30. 000 people, of all ages and social condition, were deprived of their freedom and tortured, and about 500 children abducted with their parents or born in undisclosed detention centres where the pregnant women were taken.
Those children were treated as war booty and appropriated by people to whom they considered their true parents although they have been authors or abetters in their parents’ executions and stealers of their identities. One of those pregnant women was Estela Barnes de Carlotto’s daughter – Laura Estela Carlotto – who was kidnapped for being a Peronist activist university student. Her husband had also been missing during 25 days and released after the payment of the ransom. Estela de Carlotto commenced a new life, seeking her missing daughter and then her grandson, Guido.
Laura’s body was delivered to her parents nine month after her disappearance. “Aqui nace otra Estela, una Estela hecha de la misma masa, pero que toma posiciones, que tiene actitudes distintas” South African regime, signed by the domination of a white minority and a policy of rigid racial segregation – apartheid – which was in force since colony times, as well as Argentina’s National Reorganization Process, enforced by the military dictatorship which ruled the country between 1976 and 1983 would change their lives. Fighting for a cause which affects a whole country requires organization and does not need to use violent methods.
As a Volunteer-in-Chief, Mandela travelled around his country to organize resistance to discriminatory legislation and, for that reason, he was charged and taken to trail. In spite of that, he was given a suspended prison sentence taking into account that he had adopted a non-violent course of action, although he was prohibited from attending gatherings. In those days Mandela wrote an admission examination to become an attorney and was admitted, nevertheless he was obliged to move his office to the outskirts of the city, so that their clients could not go there during working hours.
At the same time, Mandela was asked to organize a plan to maintain dynamic interaction with the members of ANC avoiding public meetings. He was the victim of repression in several occasions, banned, pursued, sentenced to life imprisonment and offered release on the condition of renouncing his position. Never did Mandela dispose his ideals: “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”.  Yet, in 1985, Mandela initiated a dialogue with the government. Regarding Estela de Carlotto, she began to collaborate with the mothers of other missing young and joined the non-governmental organization called Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, which had been established with the purpose of fighting for the return of their grandchildren. Although they did not know well what to do, or which strategy to use, and being full of fears, they were sure they have to strive and do their best for that cause.
Having been a teacher, Estela de Carlotto began raising awareness of whom those ruling the country were in fact, especially during Malvinas War. She was also persecuted, threatened, and her property – house and car – shot in various occasions. Those grandmothers had to devise the means to meet without calling the attention of those who wanted to silence them. They simulated birthday meetings in pubs and cafes in Buenos Aires city, they sang, gave presents and smile while exchanging information, which was compiled in a written summary of each of their missing relatives and estimated dates of birth of the children born in captivity.
They request for help to the local political parties, which did not desire to get involved, and after that they appealed to international humanitarian aid, but again silence was the only response, until the moment they resorted to the Organization of American States, which acted on the claim requesting intervention to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. Almost without economic resources, about 40 travels were made until the time they achieved that the allegations were considered “serious violations of the right to freedom, security and ntegrity of the person and the right to protection against arbitrary detention. “ Once had that occurred, they began to receive financial and organizational support from several agencies and institutions. So, Estela de Carlotto’s methods were not only non-violent, but also by legal means. “Creemos que el amor construye, el odio no, aun a riesgo de parecer tontas o debiles… ” Madela and Barnes de Carlotto were consciously aware that they could not fight alone, so they gathered other people to obtain the necessary strength to achieve their aims.
Both struggles were socially satisfactory and provided recognition to these two people, whose efforts did not cease. In 1982, after 18 years in prison, Mandela was freed, and in 1994 he became the first elected president of his country in a peaceful transition to democracy. During his government he established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights violations during white domination and introduced changes such as housing, education and higher living standards for black population. After retiring, he continued acting as adviser to the peace and social justice.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Price for his action in South Africa. On the other hand, despite the fact that Argentina regained democracy in 1983, it was still hard to open criminal investigations to identify the identities of missing children as there were no scientific methods to determine parentage conclusively. In view of that panorama, Estela de Carlotto and Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo recurred to the American Society for the Advancement of Science of the United States, which result was creation of grandparentage index.
Using that, a complex system of investigation began to take place, they created a National Bank of Genetic Data and several members of the military junta were indicted and condemned despite the military pressures and upheavals. Barnes de Carlotto was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize along with Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo for their efforts to locate and return the identity of hundreds of missing children born in captivity who were deprived of their identity.
By February 2010, more than a hundred grandchildren had been recovered and they continue in search of more missing people. There was no evidence in the early lives of these two individuals to indicate the sacrifices, efforts and struggles they would have to draw. They were ordinary people, living ordinary lives. Circumstances, as well as other men actions, changed them. They probably never imagined for themselves a life as the one they lived; nevertheless, what is certain is the good they accomplished for themselves, for their families and for society as a whole.
Everyone should have into account that one can become a Mandela, or an Estela de Carlotto, and be prepared to do so. Many people believe that they would not have the strength or the will to face this sort of things but, eventually, everyone is internally trained, or can be trained, to defend his own rights. Were parents and educators able to make their sons and daughters aware of this, deprivation of rights would not be allowed so easily in the future.