Mandela, Nelson Rolihlahla

Nelson Mandela, the inspiration of a Nation
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
1918 – 2013

Madiba, the tall man, the great leader and noble spirit passed away at 20:50 on 5 December 2013. He will always be an international legend – remembered for his leadership, his kindness, friendliness and forgiveness. His lifestyle speaks louder than many words.

Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in the small village of Mvezo near Umtata in the former black homeland Transkei in the Republic of South Africa. His birth name was Rolihlahla meaning troublemaker. The name Nelson was given when he went to school. It was customary to have a “Western/European” name as most white people had problems pronouncing the names of black people.

Mandela’s father was the chief of Mvezo (“a chief is a chief by birth” traditional proverb), a position confirmed by paramount chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo of the Xhosa Thembu tribe. Although the family is descended from Thembu royalty (one of Mandela’s ancestors was paramount chief in the 18th century) the line had passed down to Mandela through lesser sub-clans rather than through a line of potential succession. The clan name of Madiba, which is often used as a form of address for Mandela, comes from the ancestral chief. Mandela’s mother was a Methodist, and Nelson followed in her footsteps, attending a Methodist missionary school.

Mandela’s father died in 1930, Nelson was circumcised in 1934 during the traditional three-month initiation school. Mandela matriculated from Clarkebury Missionary School. He attended the University of Fort Hare, South Africa’s first university college for Black people in South Africa. At Fort Hare he met his lifelong friend and associate Oliver Tambo.Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo were expelled from Fort Hare in 1940 for political activism and did not complete the course.

Mandela returned to Transkei and discovered that his guardian had arranged a marriage for him. He fled towards Johannesburg, where he obtained work as a night watchman on a gold mine. Nelson Mandela moved into a house in Alexandra, a Black suburb of Johannesburg, with his mother. Here he met Walter and the later Albertina Sizulu.

Nelson MandelaHe started working as a clerk in a law firm, doing part-time studies by means of a correspondence course at the University of South Africa (now UNISA) to complete his first degree. He obtained the Bachelor’s degree in 1941, and in 1942 he was articled to another firm of attorneys and started with a law degree at Wits (University of Witwatersrand). At wits his study partner was Seretse Khama who later became the first president of an independent Botswana.

In 1944 Nelson Mandela married a nurse, Evelyn Mase, a cousin of Walter Sisulu. He has a son, Makgatho, and a daughter, Makaziwe, from this marriage. Their third child, Thembi, was killed in a car accident while Mandela was in prison. He also began his political career in earnest, joining the African National Congress, ANC. Mandela, joined by Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, and a few others formed the African National Congress Youth League, ANCYL.

In 1947 Mandela was elected as secretary of the ANC Youth League, and became a member of the Transvaal ANC executive.

By 1948 Nelson Mandela had failed to pass the exams required for his LLB law degree, and he decided instead to settle for the ‘qualifying’ exam, which would allow him to practice as an attorney. In 1951 Mandela was elected president of the ANC Youth League. He opened his law office in 1952, and within months teamed up with Oliver Tambo to create the first Black legal practice in South Africa.

It was not easy for Mandela to find time for both the legal practice and his political aspirations. In 1952 he became president of the Transvaal branch of the ANC.

Soon he was banned under the Suppression of Communism Act. He was prohibited from holding office within the ANC, banned from attending meetings for six months, and was restricted to the magisterial district around Johannesburg. For the following nine years his banning orders were continually renewed. Although Mandela was restricted from attending meetings, he went to Kliptown in June 1955 to be part of the Congress of the People, and unobtrusively watched as all involved adopted the Freedom Charter.

Mandela’s increasing uncertain life in the struggle caused marital problems, and in December 1955 Evelyn left him.

On 5 December 1956, following the adoption of the Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People, the government arrested 156 people, including Mandela and President of the ANC Chief Albert Luthuli (later Nobel Prize winner). This arrest included almost the entire executive of the ANC as well as senior members of the Congress of Democrats, South African Indian Congress, Coloured People’s Congress, and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (collectively known as the Congress Alliance).

All were charged with “high treason and a countrywide conspiracy to use violence to overthrow the present government and replace it with a communist state.” Their trial went on and on, till Mandela and his 29 remaining co-accused were acquitted in March 1961. Whilst the trial dragged on Mandela married his second wife, Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela (often referred to as Mother of the Nation). They have two daughters – Zenani and Zindzi. During 1955 younger, more radical members of the ANC broke away from the Congress of the People, and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) was established in 1959 under Robert Sobukwe. From the outset the ANC and PAC were rivals. The rivalry soon led to mass protests against the pass-laws and violence.

On 21 March 1960 at least 180 black Africans were injured and 69 killed when the South African Police shot at demonstrators at Sharpeville.

Mandela was instrumental in setting up the ANC’s militant group: Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation/MK), and Mandela became its first commander.

Both the ANC and PAC were banned by the SA government under the Unlawful Organisations Act in 1961, which led to acts of sabotage. In 1962 Mandela secretly left South Africa and addressed the conference of the Pan-African Freedom Movement in Addis Ababa. He then went to Algeria for guerrilla training, and following that he went to London to catch up with Oliver Tambo (and also to meet members of the British parliamentary opposition). On his return to South Africa in July 1962, Mandela was arrested near Howick, and sentenced to five years for incitement to strike and illegally leaving the country.

Events leading up to Robben Island

On 11 July 1963 a raid was undertaken on Liliesleaf farm in Rivonia, near Johannesburg, which was being used as Umkhonto’s headquarters. The other members of the ANC’s MK leadership were arrested.

Mandela was charged with over 200 counts of “sabotage, preparing for guerrilla warfare in SA, and for preparing an armed invasion of SA”. Police found documents relating to the manufacture of explosives, Mandela’s diary of and copies of a draft memorandum – Operation Mayibuye – that outlined a possible strategy for guerrilla struggle.

On 12 June 1964, all eight of the accused, including Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment at the Rivonia Trail, and was sent to the prison on Robben Island. At the conclusion of his four-hour statement to the court in Pretoria, Mandela stated:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. 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.”

During 1976 Police Minister, Mr. Jimmy Kruger, to renounce the struggle and settle in Transkei, requested Mandela but Mandela refused the offer.

International pressure regarding Mandela’s imprisonment built up against the SA government to release Mandela and a number of his former co-accused. This led to president PW Botha’s move that Mandela and Walter Sisulu was transferred to the mainland’s Pollsmoor Prison outside Cape Town in 1982.

During 1986 Mandela was taken from prison to meet with Kobie Coetzee, the Minister of Justice, who once again requested him to renounce violence. Following the meeting, restrictions on Mandela were to a greater extent lifted somewhat. His family was allowed to visit him.

During May 1988 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) and moved to Tygerberg hospital for treatment. On his release he was moved to new quarters at Victor Verster Prison.

Soon to be a free man again

MandelaPresident FW de Klerk met with Mandela in December 1989. When De Klerk, opened parliament on 2 February 1990, he announced the unbanning of all political parties (including the ANC), and the release of a certain category of political prisoners (those who were not guilty of violent crimes). On 11 February 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

In 1991 De Klerk and Mandela and were key figures in the negotiations at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA). The Convention was set up to negotiate constitutional change in South Africa.

Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1993, jointly with FW de Klerk (his predecessor) for the role he played in guiding South Africa peacefully into a new political dispensation. President Mandela has been awarded numerous honours and many honorary degrees.

South Africa’s first multi-racial elections took place during April 1994, and the ANC won a 62% majority. Government of National Unity was formed. On 10 May 1994 Nelson Mandela made his inaugural presidential speech from the Union Building, Pretoria.

“I stand before you filled with deep pride and joy – pride in the ordinary, humble people of this country. You have shown such a calm, patient determination to reclaim this country as your own. And joy that we can loudly proclaim from the rooftops: Free at last!” The inauguration brought together the largest number of Heads of State since the funeral of former US President John Kennedy, in 1963.

Mandela stepped down as leader of the ANC in 1997, and in 1999 he relinquished the post of president.

Mandela continued with a very active life and still has a very wide field of interest. He divorced Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in 1996, and on 18 July 1998 married Graca Machel (widow of the late Pres. Samora Machel of Mozambique) on his eightieth birthday.

In June 1994, President Mandela undertook to donate one-third of his annual salary, R150 000,00 to The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, which was established to address the needs of marginalized youth.


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