Devenu aujourd'hui symbole de paix et de réconciliation pour le monde entier, Nelson Mandela a été, avant d'être arrêté en 1962, un combattant qui a préparé avec soin la lutte armée contre le régime raciste de l'apartheid.

Les protestations non-violentes n'ayant pas réussi à faire fléchir le pouvoir blanc et son parti, le Congrès national africain (ANC), ayant été interdit, le futur chef d'Etat a pris en 1961 la décision de passer à la "violence organisée" en Afrique du Sud.

Il a rapidement convaincu les instances de l'ANC, et s'est vu confier les rênes de la nouvelle branche militaire de l'organisation, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK, la Lance de la nation).

"Moi qui n'avais jamais été soldat, qui n'avais jamais combattu, qui n'avais jamais tiré un coup de feu sur un ennemi, on m'avait confié la tâche d'organiser une armée", a-t-il écrit dans ses mémoires.

Il a alors beaucoup lu, de Che Guevara à Fidel Castro et Mao, mais s'est aussi plongé dans l'histoire de la guerre des Boers (1899-1902) : ses adversaires, les Afrikaners --ces descendant des colons hollandais qui avaient instauré l'apartheid en Afrique du Sud-- avaient alors inventé des techniques de guérilla plutôt efficaces contre les Anglais.

Sous le nom d'emprunt de David Motsamayi, il a entrepris entre janvier et juillet 1962 une grande tournée pour gagner à sa cause des pays africains fraîchement indépendants et lever des fonds.

Ce voyage l'a conduit successivement au Bechuanaland (actuel Botswana), au Tanganyika (Tanzanie), au Soudan, au Ghana, en Ethiopie, en Egypte, en Tunisie, au Maroc, au Mali, en Guinée, au Sierra Leone, à nouveau au Ghana, à nouveau en Guinée, puis au Sénégal. Après un passage à Londres, le voyage s'est poursuivi par un nouveau passage en Ethiopie pour un entraînement militaire, avant le retour en Afrique du Sud, via le Tanganyika et le Bechuanaland.

Il y a récolté 20.000 livres sterling et quelques promesses d'assistance.

Au Maroc, Mandela s'est longuement entretenu avec des responsables du FLN algérien, qui étaient en train d'arracher l'indépendance de leur pays.

A propos de la lutte du FLN, qui devait servir de modèle à l'ANC, le chef de la mission algérienne au Maroc Chawki Mostefaï "a expliqué que ce genre de guerre n'avait pas comme objectif de remporter une victoire militaire mais de libérer les forces économiques et politiques qui feraient tomber l'ennemi", a rapporté Mandela.

Le responsable algérien avait ajouté qu'il faudrait aussi particulièrement soigner l'opinion publique internationale pour la gagner à la cause de la lutte anti-apartheid, un conseil qui s'est avéré judicieux par la suite.

De son entraînement militaire en Ethiopie, Mandela a raconté qu'il avait appris à tirer, à utiliser un mortier, à fabriquer des petites bombes et des mines... et à les éviter.

"Je me sentais transformé en soldat et je commençais à penser comme un soldat --ce qui est loin de la façon de penser d'un homme politique", a-t-il écrit dans ses mémoires.

L'entraînement devait durer six mois, mais l'ANC a rappelé Mandela au bout de huit semaines. Il a été arrêté le 5 août 1962, tout juste après son retour, et restera plus de vingt-sept ans en prison.

Les autres responsables du MK ont été arrêtés moins d'un an plus tard dans la ferme de Liliesleaf à Rivonia --au nord de Johannesburg--, ce qui donnera pour longtemps un coup d'arrêt à lutte armée de l'ANC en Afrique du Sud.

De la tournée africaine de Mandela, il reste aujourd'hui un mystère.

Son instructeur éthiopien lui avait donné un pistolet Makarov, considéré comme la première arme remise officiellement au MK. L'arme, qui vaudrait aujourd'hui des millions, n'a pourtant jamais tiré un seul coup, Mandela ayant été envoyé en prison avant de pouvoir s'en servir.

Le héros de la lutte anti-apartheid a raconté l'avoir cachée à Liliesleaf, mais on ne l'y a jamais retrouvée.

Selon d'autres sources, le pistolet serait resté dans la voiture que Mandela conduisait quand il a été arrêté en août 1962. On n'a jamais retrouvé la voiture non plus.

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  • Nelson Mandela

    Former South African President Nelson Mandela, center, with his wife Graça Machel, left, as he celebrates his birthday with family in Qunu, South Africa, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Across the country, and even abroad, people are doing good deeds to honor the country's most famous statesman on his 94th birthday Wednesday.(AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Nelson Mandela

    Former South African President Nelson Mandela as he celebrates his birthday with family in Qunu, South Africa, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Across the country, and even abroad, people are doing good deeds to honor the country's most famous statesman on his 94th birthday Wednesday. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Nelson Mandela

    Former South African President Nelson Mandela as he celebrates his birthday in Qunu, South Africa, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Across the country, and even abroad, people are doing good deeds to honor the country's most famous statesman on his 94th birthday Wednesday.(AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Nelson Mandela

    Former South African President Nelson Mandela, center, with his wife Graça Machel, left, as he celebrates his birthday with family in Qunu, South Africa, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Across the country, and even abroad, people are doing good deeds to honor the country's most famous statesman on his 94th birthday Wednesday. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • South African schoolchildren hold signs

    South African schoolchildren hold signs as they prepare to sing happy birthday to former South African President Nelson Mandela, on his 94th birthday, at Batsogile Primary School in Soweto, on July 18, 2012. The nation's 12 million schoolchildren began their day with a special birthday song, ringing with the line: 'We love you father'. For the fourth year, at the request of his charitable foundation, July 18 is observed as Mandela Day, recognised by the United Nations as a global call to volunteer for good causes for 67 minutes -- representing each year of Mandela's life in active politics. AFP PHOTO / STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN (Photo credit should read STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Miss South Africa 2011 Melinda Bam poses

    Miss South Africa 2011 Melinda Bam poses with schoolchildren preparing to sing happy birthday to former South African President Nelson Mandela, on his 94th birthday, at Batsogile Primary School in Soweto, on July 18, 2012. The nation's 12 million schoolchildren began their day with a special birthday song, ringing with the line: 'We love you father'. For the fourth year, at the request of his charitable foundation, July 18 is observed as Mandela Day, recognised by the United Nations as a global call to volunteer for good causes for 67 minutes -- representing each year of Mandela's life in active politics. AFP PHOTO / STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN (Photo credit should read STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • South African schoolchildren sing happy

    South African schoolchildren sing happy birthday to former South African President Nelson Mandela as he turned 94 on July 18, 2012, at Batsogile Primary School in Soweto. The nation's 12 million schoolchildren began their day with a special birthday song, ringing with the line: 'We love you father'. For the fourth year, at the request of his charitable foundation, July 18 is observed as Mandela Day, recognised by the United Nations as a global call to volunteer for good causes for 67 minutes -- representing each year of Mandela's life in active politics. AFP PHOTO / STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN (Photo credit should read STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • South African schoolchildren sing happy

    South African schoolchildren sing happy birthday to former South African President Nelson Mandela as he turned 94 on July 18, 2012, at Batsogile Primary School in Soweto. The nation's 12 million schoolchildren began their day with a special birthday song, ringing with the line: 'We love you father'. For the fourth year, at the request of his charitable foundation, July 18 is observed as Mandela Day, recognised by the United Nations as a global call to volunteer for good causes for 67 minutes -- representing each year of Mandela's life in active politics. AFP PHOTO / STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN (Photo credit should read STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Nelson Mandela

    A woman carrying oranges on her head walks to a party in honor of former South African President Nelson Mandela during celebrations for Mandela's birthday in Mvezo, South Africa, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Across the country, and even abroad, people are doing good deeds to honor the country's most famous statesman on his 94th birthday today. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Nelson Mandela

    A traditional performer shouts out during celebrations for former South African President, Nelson Mandela's birthday in Qunu, South Africa, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Across the country, and even abroad, people are doing good deeds to honor the country's most famous statesman on his 94th birthday Wednesday. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Nelson Mandela

    Children from a school where former South African President Nelson Mandela went as a child sing as they celebrate his birth day in Qunu, South Africa, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Across the country, and even abroad, people are doing good deeds to honor the country's most famous statesman on his 94th birthday today. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Nelson Mandela

    Members from the South African correctional service repair a wall at a school where former South African President Nelson Mandela went as a child as they celebrate his birthday in Qunu, South Africa, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Across the country, and even abroad, people are doing good deeds to honor the country's most famous statesman on his 94th birthday today. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Nelson Mandela

    A man seen on horse back, as former South African President Nelson Mandela celebrates his birthday in Mvezo, South Africa, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Across the country, and even abroad, people are doing good deeds to honor the country's most famous statesman on his 94th birthday today. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Nelson Mandela

    Mandla Mandela, right, the grandson of former South African President Nelson Mandela claps hands with children and other adults during celebrations for Mandela's birthday in Mvezo, South Africa, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Across the country, and even abroad, people are doing good deeds to honor the country's most famous statesman on his 94th birthday Wednesday. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Nelson Mandela

    Children stand inline as Mandla Mandela, unseen, the grandson of former South African President Nelson Mandela hands out books to them during celebrations for Mandela's birthday in Mvezo, South Africa, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Across the country, and even abroad, people are doing good deeds to honor the country's most famous statesman on his 94th birthday today. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Children sing in celebration of former South African President Nelson Mandela's birthday in Mvezo, South Africa, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Across the country, and even abroad, people are doing good deeds to honor the country's most famous statesman on his 94th birthday today. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Nelson Mandela

    Children put on clothes that were given to them during celebration for former South African President Nelson Mandela's birthday in Mvezo, South Africa, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. Across the country, and even abroad, people are doing good deeds to honor the country's most famous statesman on his 94th birthday today. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)