Nelson Mandela

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Updated On January 4, 2022
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Nelson Mandela’s christened forename, ‘Rolihlahla,’ which means ‘troublemaker,’ ironically fit well with his personality over the years as he caused considerable trouble for the South African government through the anti-apartheid campaign and revolutionary tactics. Mandela was nurtured in a Methodist Christian society, where he inherited his father’s “proud rebelliousness” and “feeling of fairness.” He has been interested in anti-colonial politics since an early age, which led to his joining the ANC. The admission was historic not only in Mandela’s life but in the lives of all South Africans, as it finally led to a country free of discrimination. Mandela was inspired by Gandhi and committed to nonviolent resistance, but after a period of time, he switched to armed action. This was mostly owing to the state’s escalating repression and violence, as well as the failure of nonviolent protests against apartheid. Mandela led multiple movements during his 67-year political career, and was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned numerous times, the longest being a 27-year life sentence. All of the suffering, however, was worth it because 1994 marked the end of apartheid and the first multi-racial elections. Furthermore, Mandela was elected as the country’s first President (apart from being the first black South African to hold the office). This is probably why he is referred to as “the father of the nation,” “the founding father of democracy,” “the national liberator, the savior, its Washington and Lincoln wrapped into one,” and so on.

Childhood and Adolescence

Nelson Mandela was born Rolihlahla Mandela to Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa and Nosekeni Fanny on July 18, 1918. His father was a village chief and a member of the monarch’s council. He had four spouses and thirteen children, four boys and nine girls, as a polygamist.
Mandela grew up in the Qunu village. He spent a lot of his childhood herding cattle and playing with the other lads in the neighborhood. Despite the fact that both of his parents were illiterate, they recognized the value of education and enrolled Mandela in a Methodist school when he was seven years old. Nelson, Mandela’s first name, was bestowed upon him by his teacher two years later.
Mandela was given to Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo by his mother when his father died. He became an important member of the Dalindyebo family, who raised young Mandela as if he were their own child.
He went to a mission school that was close to the palace. His interest in African history expanded dramatically during this time. He also studied English, Xhosa, history, and geography in addition to these disciplines.
Mandela traveled to Tyhalarha when he was 16 years old to undertake the circumcision ceremony, which symbolically signified the transformation from boy to man. He was given the name ‘Dalibunga’ when the process was completed.
Mandela completed his secondary school at a reputable institution before enrolling in 1937 at the Methodist College in Fort Beaufort. Despite the lecturers’ insistence on the importance and superiority of English culture and government, Mandela discovered his true calling in African culture.
He then went to the University of Fort Hare to finish his studies, but he was asked to leave because of his membership in the Student Representative Council and his boycotting of university policy.
In 1941, Nelson Mandela relocated to Johannesburg. While completing his BA via correspondence during the evenings, he spent the majority of his days working for African National Congress politician Walter Sisulu.

The Political Aspirations

Mandela began his law studies at the University of Witwatersrand after finishing his BA in 1943. In his class, he was the only native African. Mandela joined the ANC under Sisulu’s leadership, who had a growing influence on him.
Mandela’s political views were shaped at this period. He became involved in the anti-apartheid struggle and even urged that the ANC create a youth wing, which led to the formation of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) on Easter Sunday, with Mandela serving on the executive committee.
Mandela was appointed to the role of Secretary at the ANCYL in 1947. With policy goals of complete citizenship, land redistribution, trade union rights, and free and compulsory education for all children, the organization planned to abandon outdated techniques of political petitioning in favor of new methods of boycott, strike, civil disobedience, and non-cooperation.
In 1950, Mandela was elected as the ANCYL’s national president. Mandela continued his struggle against racism in his new role. Aside from that, he focused on a bigger vision, which included working for national liberation.
Mandela, much motivated by Gandhi, embarked on a path of nonviolent resistance two years later. With the help of Indian and communist parties, he created the Defiance Campaign against apartheid. Starting with a small group of 10,000 members, the group quickly grew to 100,000 people.
To counter the campaign, the government declared martial law and ordered mass arrests. They even forbade Transvaal ANU President J. B. Marks from appearing in public, resulting in Mandela’s appointment as his replacement.
Mandela was detained several times for his anti-apartheid activism. On July 30, 1952, he was found guilty of violating the suppression of communism and handed a suspended prison term for his Defiance Campaign. He was also barred from attending meetings or conversing with more than one person at a time for six months.
As a result of the restriction, Mandela devised the M-Plan, or Mandela Plan, which entailed breaking the organization into cells with centralized leadership. The plan’s major goal was to allow ANC leaders to keep active communication with their constituents without having to hold public gatherings.
In the meantime, Mandela passed his qualification exam to become a full-fledged lawyer. He began his legal career at the firm Terblanche and Briggish before forming Mandela and Tambo with Oliver Tambo. The firm was the only African-owned law firm in the country, and it frequently dealt with police brutality lawsuits.

Years Later

The South African Indian Congress, the Coloured People’s Congress, the South African Congress of Trade Unions, and the Congress of Democrats all joined Mandela in forming the Congress of the People in 1955. The move’s major goal was to elicit responses from South Africans and invite them to submit recommendations for a post-apartheid era.
Several recommendations were received and implemented, resulting in the Freedom Charter. The charter, drafted by Rusty Bernstein, aims to establish a democratic, non-racist state through the nationalization of important industries. A conference was called, with 3000 participants in attendance. It did not, however, turn out to be fruitful, as cops intervened.
Despite being forbidden from public presence on multiple occasions, Mandela disregarded the bans and frequently appeared in public. Following this, Mandela and other ANC activists were arrested on December 5, 1956, on charges of high treason against the state.
Despite the fact that they were bailed out a fortnight later, the legal processes did not begin until January 9, 1957, when the judge decided there was enough reason to put the defendants on trial. The trial, which finished six years later in 1961, declared the defendants’ innocence and declared them ‘not guilty.’
Meanwhile, under the leadership of Robert Sobukwe, militant Africans founded a new organization called the Pan-African Congress (PAC). The anti-government activities resulted in widespread arrests, including the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and other ANC and PAC leaders, as well as the outlawing of the two organizations.
Mandela traveled throughout the country in a disguised avatar from 1961 to 1962, spreading the huge stay-at-home strike. He was also important in the formation of the African National Congress’s new cell structure, Umkhonto we Sizwe, or ‘Spear of the Nation,’ also known as MK.
MK was the ANC’s armed branch, and it was responsible for some of the government’s violence. The MK planned to put maximum pressure on the government while causing the least amount of civilian suffering possible. As a result, they focused their attacks at night on military installations, power plants, telephone connections, and transportation routes.
Mandela was elected as an ANC delegate to the Pan-African Freedom Movement for East, Central, and Southern Africa (PAFMECSA) summit in February 1962. The trip paid off since Mandela was exposed to other countries’ political reforms and met key activists, reporters, and politicians. In addition, he was able to raise some funding for MK’s weaponry.

Imprisonment for the rest of your life

Mandela was caught and sentenced to five years in jail upon his return to South Africa for illegally leaving the country. Mandela’s sentence was extended to life imprisonment after he was found guilty of crimes committed when he was leading the ANC struggle.
He was transferred to Robben Island Prison, a maximum-security facility on a small island near Cape Town, where he served nearly 18 years of his 27-year sentence. He was then transported to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town, then to Victor Verster Prison outside Paarl, where he was eventually released.
Mandela was offered freedom in exchange for surrendering his political viewpoint on several occasions, but he refused to accept it. He remained adamant in his belief that personal liberty was useless if people’s organizations were prohibited.

The Afterlife of Nelson Mandela

On February 2, 1990, state president F.W. de Klerk removed the ban on the ANC and announced Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Mandela declared his determination to restore peace to the black majority and grant them the opportunity to vote in elections, notwithstanding his years in prison.
He re-entered the ANCF leadership and was re-elected President of the ANC, headquartered in Shell House. He argued for the first multi-racial elections with his multi-party negotiations.
The white South Africans were eager to share power, but the black South Africans demanded ultimate authority and power transfer. As a result, violent eruptions became more common. Mandela, on the other hand, attempted to strike a careful balance between political pressure and earnest negotiation in the face of violent resistance.
South Africa’s first democratic elections were held in 1994. The election resulted in Mandela’s victory, and he went on to become the country’s first black president.
Mandela labored tirelessly as President to facilitate the transition from minority black rule to majority black rule. He put an end to apartheid and built a new Constitution, which established a strong central government based on majority rule and secured minorities’ rights and freedom of expression. He established new economic policy reforms to promote land reform, eradicate poverty, and increase healthcare facilities. Mandela worked as a mediator between Libya and the United Kingdom on the world stage, and he oversaw military action in Lesotho.
Mandela declined to run for a second term after a successful first term and resigned from politics. He remained engaged on the social front, raising funding for the construction of schools and healthcare institutions in rural areas of South Africa. He was a mediator in the Burundi civil war and formed the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

The Major Projects

The ANC Youth League was founded by Nelson Mandela. During his time at the ANCYL, he completely restructured the organization, removing all of the previous strategies and replacing them with new ones such as boycotting, striking, civil disobedience, and non-cooperation. His principal goals were to eradicate racism, grant people full citizenship, redistribute land, grant trade union rights, and provide all children with free and compulsory education.
His Defiance Campaign in 1952 and Congress of the People in 1955 propelled him to notoriety. The movement included nonviolent acts of resistance against the government of South Africa and its racial policies.
He was the founder of the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), often known as the “Spear of the Nation.” One of the ANC’s cells was dedicated to presenting violent resistance to the government.

Achievements & Awards

Nelson Mandela is a proud recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which he and de Klerk shared in 1993. He dedicated the medal to Mahatma Gandhi, from whom he drew inspiration.
In an effort to pay honor and gratitude to Mandela’s remarkable work in the anti-apartheid fight, the United Nations General Assembly designated Mandela’s birthday as ‘Mandela Day’ in 2009.
The Order of Merit and the Bailiff Grand Cross of the Order of St. John were bestowed upon Mandela by Queen Elizabeth II.
When Mandela earned the Order of Canada, he became the only living person to be given honorary Canadian citizenship.

Personal History and Legacy

Nelson Mandela married three times during his lifetime. The first was in October 1944, to Evelyn Ntoko Mase. Evelyn charged Mandela with adultery and frequent absences, ending their 13-year relationship on a sour note. Only two of the couple’s four children, two sons and two daughters, are still alive today.
Mandela and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela walked down the aisle for the second time in 1958. Two daughters were born to the couple. In 1992, the two split up, and in 1996, they divorced.
On his 80th birthday in 1998, Mandela remarried Graca Machel (née Simbine), the widow of Samora Machel.
Mandela has had a deteriorating health condition since 2004, which deteriorated in 2011 when he was hospitalized due to respiratory disease. Since then, Mandela has been hospitalized several times before passing away on December 5, 2013.


Nelson Mandela is his common name, however his forename is not the same as his baptismal name.
He was South Africa’s first democratically elected president. He was also the country’s first black president.
In South Africa, he is described as ‘the father of the nation,’ ‘the founding father of democracy,’ ‘the national liberator, the saviour, its Washington and Lincoln rolled into one,’ and ‘the national liberator, the saviour, its Washington and Lincoln rolled into one.’

Top 10 Nelson Mandela Facts You Didn’t Know

  • Nelson Mandela was his family’s first child to attend school.
  • In 1952, he and Oliver Tambo founded South Africa’s first black-owned law business.
  • Tripe, the stomach lining of farm animals, was Nelson Mandela’s favorite dish.
  • For his skill to disguise himself in order to avoid arrest, he was dubbed “the Black Pimpernel.” He would regularly disguise himself as a fieldworker, a chauffeur, or a cook.
  • While detained on the infamous Robben Island, he was an excellent communicator and established a method of delivering secret notes to other inmates.
  • Sports, he believed, were an excellent way to bring the country’s ethnically divided citizens together.
  • Australopicus nelsonmandelai is a prehistoric woodpecker named for him.
  • Because of his aggressive fight against apartheid, Nelson Mandela was once placed on the US terror watch list.
  • In the 1992 film ‘Malcolm X,’ Nelson Mandela made a cameo as a schoolteacher.
  • Mandela received over 250 accolades, including honorary degrees from over 50 universities throughout the world.