Remembering Nelson Mandela on his 100th birthday

Kriti Billore 

Born on 18 July 1918, Rolihlahla Mandela popularly known as Nelson Mandela, was a writer, civil rights activist and a politician who became the first black president of South Africa. Mandela is mainly known for his active participation in the apartheid movement in South Africa. 

Personal Life...
  • His original name was Rolihlahla Madela. When he started going to school in Qunu, there his teacher Miss Mdingane, gave him the name Nelson, in accordance to the custom of giving all the school children a Christian name.

  • He completed his junior certificate at Clarkebury boarding institute and went on to healdtown, a Wesleyan secondary school where he matriculated.
  • He studied his Bachelors of arts degree at the University College of Fort Hare but didn’t complete the degree as he was expelled for joining the student protest. 
  • Finally he completed his BA from the University of South Africa and went back to Fort Hare for his graduation in 1943.
  • In 1944 he married Walter Sisulu’s cousin, Evelyn Mase, a nurse. 
  • They had four children, two son Madiba Thembekile “Thembi” and Makgatho and two daughter both were called Makaziwe, the first one died in infancy. 
  • He and his wife divorced in 1958.

Political Career
  • In 1944 he joined African National Congress and helped to form a ANC youth league (ANCYL). 
  • Through the ranks of ANCYL , Mandela rose and because of its efforts ANC adopted more radical based policy, the program of action in 1949. 
  • In 1952, Mandela was chosen as the National Volunteer-in-chief of the defiance campaign with Maulvi Cachalia as his deputy. 
  • This was a joint program between the ANC and the South African and Indian Congress which about the civil disobedience against six unfair laws. 
  • He and other 19 people were charged under Suppression of Communism Act for their part in the campaign, they were sentenced to nine months of hard labour and were suspended for two years.
  • Mandela did two years diploma in law and before this he already had a BA degree which allowed him to practice law. 
  • In august 1952 Mandela and Oliver Tambo both established South Africa’s first black law firm, named Mandela and Tambo.
  • In the end of the year 1952, he was banned for the first time. 
  • He as a restricted person was only permitted to watch in secret as the freedom charter was adopted in Kliptown on 26 June 1955.

Imprisonments & Release

The period of treason trial:
  • Mandela got arrested in a police swoop across the country on 5 december 1955 with 155 others, which led to the 1956 treason trial. 
  • All of the defendants were acquitted in 1961 and in the mean time tensions within ANC became intense as a militant group splited in 1959 to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). 
  • The next year, police killed 69 people in township of Sharpeville, as panic anger and riots brought country  to the massacre’s aftermath, the apartheid government then banned both the ANC and PAC. 
  • Mandela after being forced to go underground and to wear disguises to escape the detection, he thought and decided that the time had arrived for more radical approaches than inactive resistance.
  • During the trial, Mandela married a social worker, Winnie madikizela, on 14 June 1958, they had two daughters zenani and zindziswa. They divorced in 1996.
  • Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, from November 1962 until February 1990. 
  • Formerly he used to believe in non violence but he began to believe that armed struggle was the only way to achieve change. 
  • In 1961, Mandela co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe, also known as MK, an armed off shoot of the ANC only to sabotage and use guerilla war tactics to end apartheid. 
  • In 1961, he organized a three-day national worker strike the following year and was sentenced to five years in prison. 
  • In 1963, Mandela was brought to trial again. This time, he and 10 other ANC leader were sentenced to life imprisonment for political offences , including sabotage.
  • He was incarcerated on Robben Island for 18 years. During this time, he contracted tuberculosis and, as a black political prisoner he received the lowest level treatment from prison workers. 
  • During his sentence he was able to earn a bachelor of law degree through a University of London correspondence program.   
  • In 1981 memoir by South African intelligence agent Gorden Winter described a plot by the south African government to arrange Mandela’s escape so as to shoot him during the recapture, this plot was foiled by British Intelligence. 
  • Mandela continued to be such a powerful symbol of black resistance that a coordinated international campaign for his release was launched.
  • After his release from prison, nelson Mandela immediately urged foreign powers not to reduce their pressure on the South African government for constitutional reform. 
  • While he stated that he was committed to work towards peace, he declared that ANC would struggle until the black majority received the right to vote. 
  • Mandela was elected as the president of African National Congress in 1991, with his lifelong friend and colleague Oliver Tambo serving as National Chairperson.  

  • On 10 may 1994 he became South Africa’s first democratically elected president. 
  • On his birthday in 1998 he married Graca Machel his third wife.
  • True to his promises he stepped down in 1999 after his presidency. 
  • He continued to work with nelson Mandela children’s fund which he had set up in 1995 and established the Nelson Mandela foundation and the Mandela Rhodes foundation.


Nelson Mandela has received more than 250 awards

  • Nobel peace prize in 1993, Mandela and President de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize for their work towards the racism and demolishing apartheid in South Africa. 

  • Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award (2006)
  • Freedom of the City of London (1996)
  • Philadelphia Liberty Medal presented by Bill Clinton (1993)
  • Olympic Gold Order (1994)Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought (1988)
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom (2002)
  • Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize (1991)
  • Anne Frank Medal (1994)
  • The Hunger Project’s 8th annual Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger (1994)

  • Bharat Ratna (1990)
and the list continues....

The life of Nelson Mandela can be best studied through his autobiography "Long Walk To Freedom"

  • 'It always seems impossible until it's done.'
  • 'Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.'
  • 'There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.'
  • 'I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.'
  • 'There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.'
  • 'If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.'
  • 'For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.'
  • 'The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.'
  • 'I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.'
  • 'A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.'

Gandhi & Mandela...
Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1994. He owed his achievements to the influence of Gandhi’s ideals and principles on his movement, career, and life. In a message, he said, “India is the Mahatma’s country of birth; South Africa is his country of adoption.” 
Mandela was a great follower of Mahtma gandhi and strongly believed in his idea of 'Truth & Non-violence'.
In one of his speeches, Mandela said that he could never achieve the height of humanity, the greatness of truth and the value of simplicity that the Mahatma had set through practical examples in his life.

He died of lung infection on 5th December 2013.

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