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The Life and Times of Nelson Mandela, an African Hero


Mandela @ 1937

Mandela @ 1937

Childhood  Life

Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Madiba clan in Mvezo, Transkei, on July 18, 1918, to Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, principal counsellor to the Acting King of the Thembu people, Jongintaba Dalindyebo.

His father died when he was a child and the young Rolihlahla became a ward of Jongintaba at the Great Place in Mqhekezweni.


Nelson Mandela was being groomed to become a chief. In that respect, he was offered the best of education. He attended primary school in Qunu where his teacher Miss Mdingane gave him the name “Nelson”, in accordance with the apartheid custom to give all school children “Christian” names.

He completed his Junior Certificate at Clarkebury Boarding Institute and went on to Healdtown, a Wesleyan secondary school (a reputable institution), where he matriculated.

During this time the apartheid system dominated the whole scene of South Africa where the blacks were treated as lesser human beings. The racial discrimination was unreasonably high. Mandela was worried about this system and was determined to pay the price of liberty.

Nelson Mandela began his studies for a Bachelor of Arts Degree at the University College of Fort Hare.  At school, Nelson was unhappy about the dozens of indignities directed to him and other black men each day.

He could not complete the degree there as he was expelled for joining in a student protest for their rights and against the white colonial rule of the institution. However, he completed his BA through the University of South Africa and went back to Fort Hare for his graduation in 1943.

He began studying for an LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand but could not graduate, so he left the university in 1948. He started studying again through the University of London but did not complete that degree also.

He later pursued a two-year diploma in law on top of his BA which allowed him to practice law and in August 1952 where he and Oliver Tambo established South Africa’s first black law firm, Mandela and Tambo.

In 1989, while in the last months of his imprisonment, he obtained an LLB through the University of South Africa. He graduated in absentia at a ceremony in Cape Town.

Politics and Civil rights activism

Nelson Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1942. In 1944, he helped formed the ANC Youth League.

Nelson Mandela rose through the ranks of the ANCYL and through its work the ANC adopted in 1949 a more formidable mass-based policy, the Programme of Action.

In 1952 he was chosen at the National Volunteer-in-Chief of the Defiance Campaign with Maulvi Cachalia as his Deputy. They adopted a campaign of civil disobedience against six unjust laws. He and 19 others were charged under the Suppression of Communism Act for their part in the campaign and sentenced to prison with nine months hard labour suspended for two years.

From this time onwards, Mandela’s life was full of struggle for national liberation and politically motivated trials and imprisonment.

To weaken their struggle for national liberation, Mandela’s right of movement was restricted by the the Apartheid Regime.

On 11 January 1962 , Nelson Mandela left South Africa secretly. He travelled around Africa and beyond to gain support for the national liberation struggle.

One of the countries he visited was Ghana.

In April 1962, he visited Ghana to take inspiration from Ghana’s first President Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, who, as a leading voice ofNelson Rolihlahla Mandela the liberation struggle in Africa, provided inspiration and support for the anti-apartheid struggle.

Upon his return to South Africa, he was arrested and charged for leaving the country and was sentenced to five years imprisonment which he began serving in Pretoria Local Prison. On 27 May 1963 he was transferred to Robben Island and returned to Pretoria on 12 June.

In October 1963 Nelson Mandela joined nine other nationalists on trial for sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial

On 11 June 1964 Nelson Mandela and seven others ,Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni were convicted and the next day were sentenced to life imprisonment. Denis Goldberg was sent to Pretoria Prison because he was white while the others went to Robben Island.

Prison Life

The British used Robben Island as a political prison for rebellious Xhosa chiefs during the 19th century. It served too as a leper colony and as a lunatic asylum.

But its darkest time was from the early Sixties onwards, when it housed the political enemies of the inhumane apartheid regime. In the heart of the main prison was Mandela’s cell.

In the interior of the island is a limestone quarry where Mandela and the other prisoners of 1964 laboriously worked by breaking the rocks. Without dark glasses, many prisoners suffered permanent eye damage from the piercing glare of the white lime.

Mandela to the day of his death could not tolerate flash photography.

The prisoners here were not allowed to be visited. According to Mandela, what the prisoners craved most was the sight and sound of children because their own were forbidden to visit.

The conditions of the prison were appalling. In 1988 Mandela contracted tuberculosis but was treated.

Couple with bad food, intensive labour, poor prison conditions and harsh treatments, the prison is best described as hell.
Pressure on the State to release Mandela

The incarceration on the Robben Island could not silence Mandela from upholding his convictions; neither did it erase his thoughts from the minds of freedom fighters. The freedom fighters and the masses rallied around relentless campaign for his release and the liberation of South Africa.

Many songs were composed in his name and for his release from jail.

But the freedom struggle came at a huge cost as many people, including children, died in pursuit of freedom and justice. Notable among them were hundreds of innocent schoolchildren who were massacred in Soweto in 1976 while protesting against a directive that they could not be taught in their own language.

Release from Prison

After holding Mandela in prison for 27 years, the apartheid regime succumb to national and international pressure to release him, and on 11th February 1990, Madiba walked out of the prison walls that had snuffed a greater part of his youthful life from him.

President of South Africa

In 1991, he was elected ANC President and in 1993 won the Nobel Peace Prize. On the 27th of April 1994 he voted for the first time in his life and on the 10th of May 1994 was inaugurated South Africa’s first democratically elected President.

True to his promise, Nelson Mandela stepped down in 1999 after one term as President. He continued to work with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund he set up in 1995 and established the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Mandela-Rhodes Foundation.

Life after Presidency

Nelson Rolihlahla MandelaNelson Mandela re-oriented his activism to making peace, using his huge influence and status as former President to mediate in civil conflicts in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries.

After devoting all his life to the service of mankind, Nelson Mandela officially retired from public life in June 2004.

On the 5th of December, 2013, Mandela passed away at home where he had been receiving medical care after a long battle with lung infection. He was 95 years old.

                                     May His soul Rest in Perfect Peace


There is no doubt that Nelson Mandela was a great man and an African legend. As the whole of Africa and the world mourn him, his memory should be used to inspire the youth and African leaders to fight against neo colonialism and imperialism.

His legacy should inspire a deep sense of equality, freedom, justice and unity of  Africans.

As he once said: “Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.”

Other Names of Mandela

Mr Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is sometimes called by other names.

Each name has its own special meaning and story. When you use them you should know what you are saying and why. So here is a brief explanation of each name.

Rolihlahla – This is Mr Mandela’s birth name: it is an isiXhosa name which means “pulling the branch of a tree”, but colloquially it means “troublemaker”. His father gave him this name.

Nelson – This name was given to him on his first day at school by his teacher, Miss Mdingane. Giving African children English names was a custom. It is unclear why Miss Mdingane chose the name “Nelson” for Mr Mandela.

Madiba – This is the name of the clan of which Mr Mandela is a member. A clan name is much more important than a surname as it refers to the ancestor from which a person is descended. Madiba was the name of a Thembu chief who ruled in the Transkei in the 18th century. It is considered very polite to use someone’s clan name.

Tata – This isiXhosa word means “father” and is a term of endearment that many South Africans use for Mr Mandela. Since he is a father figure to many, they call him Tata regardless of their own age.

Khulu – Mr Mandela is often called “Khulu”, which means great, paramount, grand. The speaker means “Great One” when referring to Mr Mandela in this way. It is also a shortened form of the isiXhosa word “uBawomkhulu” for “grandfather”.

Dalibhunga – This is the name Mr Mandela was given at the age of 16 once he had undergone initiation, the traditional Xhosa rite of passage into manhood. It means “creator or founder of the council” or “convenor of the dialogue”. The correct use of this name when greeting Mr Mandela is “Aaah! Dalibhunga”.

Other names – Of course, Mr Mandela’s family use many terms of endearment for him. His grandchildren use variants of “Grandfather”, like “Granddad” for instance. Mrs Graça Machel frequently uses “Papa”.

Quick Facts about Mandela ( Including the prison Numbers)

2 December 1952: Nelson Mandela is convicted with 19 others for his role in the 1952 Defiance Campaign and sentenced to nine months’ hard labour, suspended for two years

21 March 1960: Sixty-nine peaceful protesters are killed by police at Sharpeville

8 April 1960: Apartheid regime bans the African National Congress (ANC) and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC)

29 March 1961: Mandela is acquitted with 27 remaining accused in the four-and-a-half year Treason Trial. Immediately goes underground

11 January 1962: Leaves the country to get support  for the ANC

April 1962, visited Ghana to take inspiration and support from Ghana’s first President Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, who, as a leading voice of the liberation struggle in Africa

23 July 1962: Returns to South Africa via Botswana

5 August 1962: Arrested at a roadblock near Howick, KwaZulu-Natal

7 November 1962: Sentenced to five years for leaving the country without a passport and incitement. Begins serving his sentence at the Pretoria Local Prison
Prisoner number: 19476/62

27 May 1963: Is transferred to Robben Island

12 June 1963: Is transferred back to Pretoria Local Prison
Prisoner number: 11657/63

9 October 1963: Appears, for the first time, with 10 others in the Palace of Justice in Pretoria. They become the accused in the Rivonia Trial. The case is remanded to 29 October

29 October 1963: The defence applies for the quashing of the indictment alleging 199 acts of sabotage

30 October 1963: Prosecutor Percy Yutar announces that Bob Hepple would become a state witness. He is released and skips the country. The indictment against the 10 others is quashed. They are immediately rearrested

1 November 1963: Justice De Wet refuses bail to Kantor and Bernstein. The case is remanded to 12 November

12 November 1963:  Yutar presents a new indictment splitting the sabotage charges into two parts. The case is remanded to 25 November

25 November 1963: The 199 alleged acts of sabotage are reduced to 193. The defence applies to have the new indictment quashed

26 November 1963: Justice De Wet dismisses the application to have the indictment quashed

27 November 1963: The trial is remanded to 3 December, after Kantor’s new defence requests time to prepare

3 December 1963: The 10 accused plead not guilty to sabotage in the Rivonia Trial

20 April 1964: Mandela makes his famous Speech from the Dock, in which he says he is “prepared to die” for a democratic South Africa 

11 June 1964: Is convicted of sabotage with Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Govan Mbeki, Elias Motsoaledi, Denis Goldberg and Andrew Mlangeni

12 June 1964: Is sentenced to life imprisonment with Sisulu, Kathrada, Mhlaba, Mbeki, Motsoaledi, Goldberg and Mlangeni

12 June 1964: All except Goldberg are sent to Robben Island to serve their sentences. Goldberg, as the only white person convicted in the trial, is held in Pretoria Central Prison. Mandela is assigned the prisoner number 466/64

13 June 1964: Arrives on Robben Island with Sisulu, Kathrada, Mhlaba, Mbeki, Motsoaledi and Mlangeni. Goldberg is sent to Pretoria as he is white
Prisoner number: 466/64

24 September 1968: Mandela’s mother Nosekeni dies. He is forbidden from attending her funeral

13 July 1969: Mandela’s eldest son, Thembekile, is killed in a car accident. He is forbidden from attending his funeral

31 March 1982: Is transferred to Pollsmoor Prison with Sisulu, Mhlaba and Mlangeni. Mandela is assigned the prisoner number 220/82

10 February 1985: Rejects President PW Botha’s offers to release him and other political prisoners if he would stop the struggle against apartheid.

28 February 1985: Goldberg, who has been held apart from his comrades for more than 20 years, accepts the offer and is released

23 November 1985: Is discharged from the Volks Hospital and held in a cell alone at Pollsmoor Prison, from where he begins communicating with the government about eventual talks with the ANC

16 May 1986: Meets with an Eminent Persons Group from the Commonwealth Group of Nations

20 July 1986: Holds his first meeting with Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee about talks between the government and the ANC

5 November 1987: Govan Mbeki is released from Robben Island

12 August 1988: Is taken to Tygerberg Hospital where TB is diagnosed

31 August 1988: Is transferred to Constantiaberg MediClinic

7 December 1988: Is transferred to Victor Verster Prison
Prisoner number: 1335/88

5 July 1989: Meets PW Botha in his office in Cape Town

15 October 1989: Sisulu, Kathrada, Motsoaledi, Mlangeni and Mhlaba are released, along with Oscar Mpetha and PAC prisoner Jeff Masemola

11 February 1990: Madiba is released from Victor Verster Prison

13 December 1989: Meets President FW de Klerk at his office in Cape Town

2 February 1990: At the opening of Parliament, De Klerk announces the unbanning of all political organisations, including the ANC

10 February 1990: Meets De Klerk and is informed he will be released the next day in Johannesburg. Mandela objects, saying he wants to walk through the gates of Victor Verster Prison, and asks for two weeks for ANC to prepare. De Klerk refuses the extension but agrees to release him at Victor Verster

10 February 1990: De Klerk announces at a press conference that Nelson Mandela will be released the next day

11 February 1990: Nelson Mandela is released from Victor Verster Prison

11 February 1990: He addresses thousands of well-wishers gathered on the Grand Parade, from the balcony of the City Hall in Cape Town. Spends the night at Bishopscourt, the official residence of the Archbishop of Cape Town

12 February 1990: Holds a press conference in the garden of Bishopscourt. Flies to Johannesburg

12 February 1990: Spends the night in Northriding, at the home of a supporter, Sally Rowney

13 February 1990: Flies to FNB Stadium in Soweto for a welcome home rally

13 February 1990: Spends his first night in decades at his family home, at 8115 Orlando West, Soweto

1991: he was elected ANC President

1993: won the Nobel Peace Prize.

27th of April 1994: voted for the first time in his life

10th of May 1994: inaugurated South Africa’s first democratically elected President.

1995: established the Nelson Mandela Foundation

1999: stepped down after one term as President.

June 2004: officially retired from public life.

2010: made his last public appearance after retirement from public life. This was during the final match of the World Cup hosted by South Africa.

5th of December, 2013:  passed away at home where he had been receiving medical care after a long battle with lung infection.