For many generations the African population suffered from segregation not only in the United States, but in other parts of the world as well, including South Africa. In the battle for equality and freedom from oppression, Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were advocates for human rights as well as prominent leaders in their respective countries. While both men witnessed the oppression of their people, they also agreed on the definition of just and un-just laws; however, they both faced different circumstances and sought different approaches in their efforts to bring about change.
Despite living in different countries at the time, King and Mandela both faced oppression and witnessed their people struggle against the principal of white supremacy. The segregation they faced on a day to day basis went beyond simply being denied service at stores and restaurants, such as took place in the United States for King’s people. In South Africa the cost of education for African children was much less affordable than the cost for white children, making it so that most African children could not even attend school. Apart from this, the black communities of both regions also suffered from poverty due to the fact that all the better and higher paying jobs were reserved for whites only. In both the U.S. and South Africa blacks were constantly being harassed or beaten by police officials simply for walking down the street or even for attempting to participate as members of society. Both men talk about their government’s observations that the members of the black communities seemed all to willing to break laws, and with so many restrictions thrust upon them it seemed only natural for the oppressed to want to do so.
There is a difference between just and unjust laws: just laws are codes made by man which do not discriminate and are squared with the moral law; whereas, unjust laws are codes made by man which are not in harmony with the moral law and cause separation between a majority group and a minority group. King and Mandela give many examples of unjust laws, and coincidentally both end up being arrested and thrown in jail for breaking such laws. The laws of which they speak are ones that the white people devised as a means to suppress the black people, therefore, making themselves the superior beings. Both men use the example that black people were not allowed to vote as dictated by law. However, if a black person cannot vote, then any law created to restrict them becomes unjust simply by the fact that they never had a say in the first place. At the time, legislation was designed to reinforce the idea that whites are superior as well as to maintain their status both in the U.S and in South Africa. After a certain point, however, the oppressed become restless and after so many years of living in such a way, there comes a time when action must be taken in order to achieve change.
While King always maintained true to a non-violent approach to oppression, Mandela’s stance changed over time from remaining non-violent to using properly controlled violence as a means to fight against it.