Nelson Mandela was born at Mveso, in the current Eastern Cape province of South Africa, into the Madiba clan of the Thembu royal family of the Xhosa nation, as Rolihlahla Mandela on 18 July 1918, to mother Nonqaphi Nosekeni, and father Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, the principal counsellor to Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the then Acting King of the Thembu people of the Transkeian Xhosa of South Africa.
Rolihlahla, is a Xhosa term colloquially meaning 'troublemaker'. Madiba was his clan name.
His father, Mphakanyiswa, died in 1930 when Rolihlahla was 12 years old, and he became a ward of Jongintaba at the Great Place in Mqhekezweni.
As a young boy, he heard the elders' stories of his ancestor's valour during the different wars, and it inspired him to make his own contribution to the struggle to free his people of dominance, first from the British Cape colony of South Africa and the later Union of South Africa, and later by the Republic of South Africa of the 1960's.
At age 16, Nelson, at Tyhalarha, got the name Dalibhunga, as his initiation name, on the occasion of his circumcision ritual, the transition from boy to manhood, a tradition that is upheld in the Xhosa culture to the present day.
He was baptised a Methodist, and it was in Qunu where his primary school teacher, Miss Mdingane gave him the name Nelson, in accordance with the custom of giving all school children names of English Christian origin.
Nelson finished Junior High school at the Western-styled Clarkebury Boarding Institute in Engcobo. It was the largest school for black Africans in Tembuland.
He matriculated later at Healdtown, a Wesleyan secondary school in Fort Beaufort, attended by most Thembu royalty, including his cousin Justice, the son of his guardian Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo. There he spent much of his spare time long distance running and boxing.
Nelson proceeded to the University College of Fort Hare, in Alice, Eastern Cape, and began his studies for a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. He studied English, Anthropology, Politics, Native administration, and Roman Dutch law in his first year. He stayed in the Wesley House dormitory, where he befriending his own kinsman, K.D. Matanzima, as well as Oliver Tambo, who became a close friend and comrade for decades to come. Nelson took up ballroom dancing, performed in a drama society play about Abraham Lincoln, and were a bible lesson teacher to the community, as part of the local Students Christian Association (SCA).
From Fort Hare, he was expelled, for joining in a student protest against the quality of the food in the dormitary.
Johannesburg, further studies and influences
Nelson returned to the Great Place at Mqhekezweni, infuriating the Chief, Jongintaba, who made it clear that if Nelson didn't return to Fort Hare to finish his studies, he would have arranged marriages for him and his cousin Justice. The two ran away to Johannesburg, where they arrived in April 1941. Nelson started work as a night watchman at Crown Mines. Walter Sisulu, an estate agent, introduced him to the liberal Jew, Lazar Sidelsky, an attorney of the law firm Witkin, Eidelman and Sidelsky, where Nelson then did his articles. There, he befriended Gaur Redebe, a Xhosa member of the ANC and Communist Party, as well as Nat Bregman, a Jewish communist who became his first white friend. Soon, Nelson became involved with the talks and parties of the Communist following.
Nelson completed his BA, studying at night through the distance education program of the University of South Africa (UNISA), and for his graduation in 1943, returned to Fort Hare.
He further studied a two-year diploma in law, which together with his BA, allowed Nelson to practice law, and in August 1952 he and Oliver Tambo established South Africa's first black law firm, Mandela and Tambo, in Johannesburg.
Early 1947, he finished his articles after three years at Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman, and began his full-time studies for an LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS), but after financial struggles, he left the university in 1952 before he could graduate. There he befriended liberal and communist European, Jewish, and Indian students, like Joe Slovo, Harry Schwarz and Ruth First.
He would later pick up on his studies again, through the University of London (External program), after his imprisonment in 1962, but also without completing that degree.
Later, during the last months of his imprisonment in 1989, he finally obtained his LLB from the University of South Africa (UNISA), and graduated in absentia at a ceremony in Cape Town.
Early politics and first marriage
Nelson was ever increasingly politically involved from 1942, and joined the African National Congress (ANC)in 1944 when he helped to form the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL), on Easter Sunday 1944, after his support for Anton Lembede, who believed that black Africans should not align with other racial groups in their struggle against colonialism, nor form an alliance with communists.
1944 also saw Nelson's first marriage, to Evelyn Ntoko Mase, who was a nurse. She was Walter Sisulu's cousin. They rented the now famous Soweto house 8115 from 1946.
Nelson and Evelyn, his first wife, on their wedding day, 5 Oct 1944.
They had two sons, Madiba Thembekile 'Thembi' (Feb 1945) and Makgatho, and two daughters, the first was Makaziwe (1947), who died at nine months of meningitis, and their later daughter was again named Makaziwe. Nelson and Evelyn separated in 1955 and divorced in March 1958.
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The South African National Party came to power in 1948. Nelson rose through the ranks of the ANCYL, becoming its secretary in 1947 after the death of Lembede. A new approach followed, incorporating communists and non-blacks in the ANCYL. Nelson was initially opposed to this.
In 1949 the ANC adopted the Programme of Action, a more radical mass-based and revolutionary policy, after the moderate president of the ANC, Xuma, was ousted and replaced by James Moroka.
Having devoted his time to politics, Mandela failed his final year at Witwatersrand three times; he was ultimately denied his degree in December 1949.
In March 1950, Nelson Mandela replaced Xuma on the National Committee of the ANC. Later that year, he became the president of the ANCYL, when he ultimately was outvoted on his stance against a racially united front and alliance with the communists. He altered his approach and accepted the majority sentiment. He became influenced by the texts of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, and embraced dialectical materialism. Nelson began work at the law firm HM Basner in April 1952.
He became Transvaal ANC President in 1952, and the National Volunteer-in-Chief of the 1952 Defiance Campaign, with Maulvi Cachalia as his deputy. This was a campaign of civil disobedience against six laws, and a joint programme between the ANC and the South African Indian Congress.
On 30 July 1952, Mandela was arrested, and with 19 others, were charged under the Suppression of Communism Act for their part in the campaign, and sentenced to nine months hard labour, suspended for two years.
Nelson was banned for the first time at the end of 1952. He became Superintendent of the ANC's Transvaal chapter and presided over the 1955 Congress of the People, who adopted the Freedom Charter on Freedom Square, Kliptown, Soweto, on 26 June 1955. As a restricted person, he watched on in secret.
Mandela started working as an attorney for the firm Terblanche and Briggish, then moved to the liberal-run Helman and Michel, passing qualification exams to become a full-fledged attorney.
In August 1953, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo opened their own law firm, Mandela and Tambo, in the city of Johannesburg. the only black African-run law firm in the country at the time.
Nelson and Evelyn had their second daughter, Makaziwe Phumia, in May 1954, but the marriage broke down after Evelyn accused him of adultery with Lillian Ngoyi, and Ruth Mompati who it is rumoured, had a child with Nelson. Evelyn became a Johovah's Witness and rejected Nelson's obsession with politics. She left with their children to live with her brother in Transkei. His mother Nosekeni, who were living with them at the time, also returned, disgusted with her son's behaviour, to Transkei.
Treason Trial, militant activism, and second marriage
The all-black Sophiatown suburb of Johannesburg was demolished in February 1955, after an unsuccessful protest to prevent it. Mandela held that the ANC "had no alternative to armed and violent resistance" He instructed Walter Sisulu to request weaponry from Communist China, but China's government believed the ANC insufficiently prepared for guerilla warfare.
Together with the South African Indian Congress, the Coloured People's Congress, the South African Congress of Trade Unions, and the Congress of Democrats, the ANC planned a 'Congress of the People', which called on all South Africans to submit proposals for a post-apartheid era. From the responses, a 'Freedom Charter' was compiled by Rusty Bernstein, which outlined a democratic, non-racialist state with the nationalisation of major industry. The charter was adopted in June 1955 at a conference in Kliptown, Soweto, with an attendance of 3000 delegates, where police cracked down on the event. The Freedom Charter remained a key part of Nelson Mandela's ideology.
The Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, at Freedom Square in Soweto
Freedom Square Open air market, and the 10 points of the Freedom Charter of 1955.
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After a second ban, Nelson went in September 1955 to Transkei to discuss the implications of the Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 with tribal leaders and to visit his mother and Noengland, then visited Cape Town. That led to a third ban in March 1956, restricting him to Johannesburg with a ban on public appearances, which he ofted defied.
On 5 December 1955, Nelson was arrested in a countrywide police swoop, alongside most of the ANC Executive, for high treason, which led to the 1956 - 1961 Treason Trial.
During the divorce proceedings from Evelyn in Early 1958, Nelson started courting Winnie Madikizela, a social worker. During the Treason trial, Nelson married Winnie, his second wife, on 14 June 1958, in Bizana. She became an ANC activist, and has spent several weeks in prison. They had two daughters, Zenani and Zindziswa (Zindzi). They divorced in 1996.
At Sharpeville on 21 March 1960, in a protest against the pass laws and the burning of their passes, which was organised by the newly formed PAC (Pan-Africanist Congress), police opened fire and killed 69 unarmed people. This led to the country's first State of Emergency and martial law. Nelson and his colleagues in the Treason Trial, were arrested on 30 March, and were among thousands detained during the State of Emergency. On 8 April followed the banning of the ANC and the PAC.
Days before the end of the Treason Trial, Nelson Mandela went to Pietermaritzburg to speak at the All-in Africa Conference, where it was decided that he should requesting a non-racial national convention from Prime Minister Verwoerd, and to warn that should he not agree, it would lead to a national strike against South Africa for gaining its independence from Britain and becoming a republic.
Men and women of all races were attending the marathon Treason Trial that only ended when the last 28 accused, including Mandela, were acquitted on 29 March 1961.
As soon as he and his colleagues were acquitted in the Treason Trial, Nelson went underground and began planning a national strike for 29 to 31 March 1961. Because of massive mobilisation of state security forces, the strike was called off early.
Nelson was influenced by Marxism, and affiliated himself with the SACP (South African Communist Party), sitting on its Central Committee. After an initial commitment to non-violent protest, his association with the SACP led to the formation, under his leadership, of the militant MK (Umkontho weSizwe - Spear of the Nation) in 1961, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. His inspiration came from Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement in the Cuban Revolution. Co-founders were SACP leader Joe Slovo, and Walter Sisulu.
Soon after ANC leader Albert Luthuli was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, MK publicly announced its existence with 57 bombings on Dingane's Day (16 December) 1961, followed by further attacks on New Year's Eve.
Nelson Mandela left South Africa in secrecy on 11 January 1962, under the false name of David Motsamayi, travelling around Africa (Ethiopia, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Senegal) and England, to gain support, funds and weaponry for the armed struggle of his Umkhonto weSizwe, terrorist organisation by definition, who was eventually responsible for more that 170 innocent peoples' death in numerous bomb attacks on civilian targets in South Africa. Hundreds of other innocent people were injured in these attacks.
Nelson Mandela received military training in Morocco, and guerrilla warfare training in Ethiopia, and in July 1962 returned to South Africa. On 5 August he was arrested in a police roadblock outside Howick on his way from KwaZulu-Natal, where he briefed ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli about his trip abroad.
Nelson was charged with leaving the country illegally and inciting workers to strike. With Joe Slovo as legal advisor, his hearing started on 15 October 1962. He was convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment, which he began serving in the Pretoria Local Prison, where Winnie could visit him. There he started his correspondence studies for a LLB (Bachelor of Laws) degree from the University of London.
On 27 May 1963 he was transferred to Robben Island and returned to Pretoria on 12 June.
ANC and Communist Party activists used a secret hide-out, Lilies Leaf in Rivonia, which was raided by police on 11 July 1963, where several of Nelson's comrades were arrested. Police uncovering paperwork documenting MK's activities, some of which mentioned Mandela.
On 9 October 1963, the Rivonia Trial started in the Pretoria Supreme Court, with Nelson Mandela and ten others on trial, charged with four counts of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government. After prosecutor Percy Yutar presenting his reformulated case from December 1963 until February 1964, calling 173 witnesses and bringing thousands of documents and photographs to the trial, Nelson was convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state (treason), and sentenced to life imprisonment.
While facing the death penalty, Nelson Mandela gave a three hour speech, which was inspired by Fidel Castro's "History Will Absolve Me" speech. His words to the court at the end of his famous 'Speech from the Dock' on 20 April 1964 became immortalised:
"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."
On 11 June 1964, Nelson Mandela and seven other accused, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni were convicted by Judge Quartus de Wet, and the next day were sentenced to life imprisonment, rather than the usual death sentence. As a white man, Denis Goldberg was sent to Pretoria Prison, while the others were sent to Robben Island, off the Cape Town coast, where they remained for the next 18 years.
Nelson's father passed away in 1930, although his autobiography, 'Long Walk to Freedom' states (incorrectly) the date as 1927. Nelson's mother visited him in prison. She passed away in 1968, and his eldest son Thembi in 1969. As a prisoner, Nelson was not allowed to attend their funerals.
In March 1980 the slogan "Free Mandela!" was developed by journalist Percy Qoboza, sparking an international campaign that led the UN Security Council to call for his release.
Nelson Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town on 31 March 1982, joined by Sisulu, Mhlaba and Mlangeni. In October 1982, Kathrada joined them.
After prostate surgery, Nelson Mandela was given solitary quarters when he returned to the prison in November 1985. Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee visited him in hospital, together with a further 12 secret meetings over three years, without President PW Botha's concent. During a time of heavy unrest and attacks by the ANC, committing 231 atttacks during 1986 and 236 in 1987, government called a State of Emergency and defended national security with Police crackdowns and Army involvement on the borders of SA.
Although hailed globally as a heroic figure, Nelson faced a personal setback when ANC leaders informed him that Winnie had set herself up as head of a criminal gang, the "Mandela United Football Club", who had been responsible for torturing and killing opponents, including children, in Soweto. Some comrades encouraged him to divorce her, but he decided to remain loyal to Winnie until she was found guilty by trial. A chief witness against Winnie was supposedly smuggled out of South Africa and transferred to another African county by underground forces.
The Apartheid government started to change their view over the policy of racial segregation and separate development in the self-governing black states within the borders of South Africa. During the 1980s President PW Botha initiated several abolitions of the strict apartheid laws. Later Mandela initiated talks about an ultimate meeting between the Apartheid government and the ANC.
While imprisoned, on 12 August 1988 Nelson was diagnosed with tuberculosis and admitted to hospital. On his return on 7 December 1988, he was transferred to a house at Victor Verster Prison near Paarl where he spent his last 14 months in prison. There he received many visitors, like Harry Schwarz, and had secret communications with exiled ANC leader Oliver Tambo.
In 1989 President PW Botha suffered a stroke. He retained the presidency, but stepped down as leader of the ruling National Party, to be replaced by FW de Klerk. Surprisingly, PW Botha invited Nelson Mandela to a meeting over tea in July 1989. Six weeks later, de Klerk replaced Botha as president, believing that apartheid was unsustainable, and unconditionally released all ANC prisoners, except Mandela.
FW de Klerk called out a referendum, in which more than two thirds of the electorate Whites, Coloured people, and Indians, voted in favour of his new policies.
The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, giving de Klerk the final courage to legalise all formerly banned political parties on 2 February 1990 and released Mandela unconditionally on Sunday 11 February 1990. Shortly thereafter, after 20 years, photographs of Mandela were allowed to be published in South Africa.
Throughout his imprisonment Nelson Mandela had rejected at least three conditional offers of release. To the end he did not renounce violence as a means to bring about political change to South Africa.
Nelson Mandela spent over 27 years in prison, firstly on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. The international 'Free Mandela' campaign lobbied for his release.
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Freedom and negotiations
On his release from prison, Nelson gave a speech on the balcony of Cape Town's City Hall to a huge cheering crowd and worldwide media coverage. There he committed to peace and reconciliation with the white minority, but also to a continued armed struggle against apartheid, until full democracy. He returned to his home in Soweto and spoke to 100 000 people at FNB Stadium, the later Soccer City stadium near Soweto.
Nelson continued his tour of freedom to Africa (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Libya and Algeria), and on to Sweden, London, France, Vatican City, USA, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, and Japan, encouraging foreign countries to support sanctions against South Africa.
In May 1990, Nelson led negotiations between the ANC and 11 Afrikaner men, followed by talks with the National government, after which the State of Emergency was lifted. In August, Nelson offered a ceasefire from his militant Mkontho weSizwe (MK). Many ANC supporters found Nelson Mandela too moderate, but he persevered in his aim to build a 'strong and well-oiled task force' to secure majority rule. At the ANC's July 1991 national conference, he was elected ANC President, and a mixed-gender, multiracial national executive of 50 were elected.
Nelson assumed office in the ANC headquarters in Shell House Johannesburg, and moved with Winnie into her new Soweto home. After he learned of her affair with Dali Mpofu, he still supported her during her trial for kidnapping and assault, for which she was convicted to six years in prison, reduced to two on appeal. On 13 April 1992, he announced his separation from Winnie. He moved to his Houghton home, where he stayed for most of his remaining life.
Black-on-black violence increased, and in September 1991 a national peace conference was held where Mandela (ANC) Buthelezi (Inkatha) and FW de Klerk (NP) signed a peace accord, but the violence continued.
In December 1991 the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) began at the Johannesburg World Trade Center. 228 delegates from 19 political parties attended. CODESA 2 started in May 1992, where de Klerk insisted that post-apartheid South Africa should use a federal system with a rotating presidency to ensure the protection of ethnic minorities; Mandela opposed this, demanding a unitary system governed by majority rule.
The Boipatong massacre of ANC activists by Inkatha resulted in Nelson's calling off of negotiations, and his calling on UN peacekeeping force to 'prevent state terrorism'. After mass action protest marches were met by another 28 ANC supporters shot, Nelson resumed talks in September, where he insisted on Zulu supporters be constrained. Negotiations resulted in a 5 year coalition government of national unity, an interim constitution, a constitutional court, bill of rights, nine provices, each with its own premier and civil service.
Influenced by Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela steered away from nationalisation, in support of foreign investment.
For the 1994 elections, the ANC campaigned, for voter support, to introduce the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) to build a million houses in five years, introduce universal free education and extend access to water and electricity. The party's slogan was "a better life for all". The ANC took 62% of the vote, victorious in 7 of the nine provinces, with Inkatha winning Kwa-Zulu Natal and the NP the Western Cape. Nelson afterwards publicly accepted that the election had been marred by instances of fraud and sabotage.
In 1993 Nelson Mandela and President FW de Klerk jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize. FW de Klerk, for his radical views to abolish the apartheid system, unban the ANC, SACP, and PAC, and release their political prisoners.
On 27 April 1994 Nelson Mandela voted for the first time, in the first multiracial elections in which he led the ANC to victory.
On 10 May 1994 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first fully democratically elected President, and its first black president.
A Government of National Unity was established, in which Mandela invited several other political parties to join the Cabinet.
As agreed to during the negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa, Mandela promulgated a new constitution, which is known to be one of the most liberal in the world.
Nelson Mandela created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to investigate past human rights abuses. His administration continued the former government's liberal economic policy, but also introduced measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty, and expand healthcare services. Internationally, Mandela was mediator between Libya and the United Kingdom in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial, and oversaw military intervention during the upheaval in the Kingdom of Lesotho.
He served, by choice, only one term, and was in Office, from 10 May 1994 until 14 June 1999.
He was preceded by FW de Klerk, who released him from prison.
Nelson Mandela's Deputies were FW de Klerk (1st deputy) and Thabo Mbeki (2nd deputy).
Nelson met Graca Machel in July 1990, while still in mourning over her late husband, Samora Machel, former president of Mozambique. Their friendship grew into a partnership. She declined his first marriage proposal, hoping to retain some independence.
Winnie wanted to reconcile in 1994, but in August 1995, Nelson initiated divorce proceedings, which were concluded the following year.
On his 80th birthday in 1998, Nelson married his third wife, Graca Machel, widow of Samora Machel, a former president of Mozambique, the neighbouring country to the north-east of South Africa.
Internationally, Nelson Mandela was Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999.
True to his promise, Nelson Mandela stepped down in 1999 as President of South Africa, after only one term in office. He was succeeded by Thabo Mbeki.
Nelson established the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund in 1995 and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which worked extensively to combat poverty and HIV/AIDS, and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation. After his retirement from Office, he devoted much of his time to these organisations.
In April 2007 his grandson Mandla Mandela became head of the Mvezo Traditional Council, at a ceremony at the Mvezo Great Place.
Nelson Mandela persevered in his devotion to democracy, equality and learning. Despite provocation, he never answered racism with racism. Fortunately for all South Africans, his life as a peace loving statesman and since his release from prison, has been an inspiration to all who are oppressed and deprived, and to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation.
He officially died at his home in Johannesburg on 5 December 2013, although his family later admitted that he was kept alive on life support machines after his release from hospital a few months before. His body lay in state for a few days at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, after which he was laid to rest with a traditional family burial in the Mandela Graveyard in Qunu, Eastern Cape, on 15 December 2013.
In his life, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela acquired the honour of being called Tata, as well as Madiba, a reference to his father figure.
He was honoured with more that 250 honours, amongst others, the following awards: Bharat Ratna (1990), Nobel Peace Prize (1993), the Soviet Order of Lenin, the USA Presidential Medal of Freedom. His most notable work, is his 1994 autobiography, 'Long Walk to Freedom'
Nelson Mandela was a controversial figure for much of his life. Although he will be remembered by some as a man that has walked the path as Activist, Lawyer, Freedom Fighter, Revolutionary, and even Terrorist (the organisation Umkontho weSizwe was classified as a terrorist organisation by amongst others, the USA and the UK), he will be remembered by most as Politician, Philanthropist, State President, and the Father of the Nation.
Sources include: Nelson Mandela Biography on www.nelsonmandela.org; Nelson Mandela on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nelson_Mandela
Copyright www.touringsouthafrica.co.za © 2014 Peter Maas
The Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, at Freedom Square in Soweto
Freedom Square open air market, and the 10 points of the Freedom Charter of 1955.
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More scenes of Soweto township, southwest of Johannesburg
Inside the Regina Mundi Church / A Mandela mural in Soweto
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