Nelson Mandela (Rolihlahla Mandela;
b. 18 July 1918) was born in the Transkei region of
South Africa, in the small village of Qunu - a
collection of beehive-shaped huts with thatch roofs,
known as rondavels.
mother, Nosekeni Fanny, was the third wife of Gadla
Henry Mphakan-yiswa, a councillor to the Thembu king
and a member of the Xhosa tribe. His father had four
wives and thirteen children (four boys and nine
mother had three huts and Mandela lived with her and
his three immediate sisters. One hut was used for
sleeping, another for cooking and the third for
storing grain and other food. Everyone slept on mats
on the ground, without pillows. His mother, as a
married woman, had her own field to tend and her own
cattle kraal - an enclosure for cattle made from
Mandela, who started school when he was seven,
was given the name Nelson by a Methodist teacher,
purportedly after the British admiral Horatio
His father died of tuberculosis when he was nine
and the Regent, Jongintaba became his guardian. In
Xhosa society that was the natural thing to do.
Jongintaba was the head of the Madiba clan. In terms
of custom, all members of the clan were treated like
people in the same family because they were all
descended from the same ancestor. Mandela, or anyone
else, could go to the home of any fellow Madiba
member, whether in the same village or in a village
miles away, and know that he would get food and
At 16, as is the Xhosa custom, Mandela went to a
circumcision school on the banks of the Bashee
River, the place where many of his ancestors were
circumcised. By the standards of his tribe, he was
now a man ready to take part in the 'parliament' of
the tribe Imbizo.
When Mandela was nineteen he went to the
Wesleyan college in Fort Beaufort. After
matriculating he went to Fort Hare University where
he was befriended by Oliver Tambo. Before finishing his course Mandela left for
Mandela's flight to Johannesburg
Mandela recalled, "At 23, my
guardian felt it was time for me to get married. He
loved me very much and looked after me as diligently
as my father had, but he was no democrat and did not
think it worthwhile to consult me about a wife. He
selected a girl, fat and dignified, paid lobola and
arrangements were afoot for the wedding. I escaped
In Johannesburg he found temporary employment as
a mine guard. Shortly after, his friend and lawyer,
Walter Sisulu, helped him find work as an articled
In 1944 Mandela joined the African National
Congress (ANC). That same year he married Evelyn
Ntoko Mase, who, like Mandela, was from the
Transkei. They had three children, but they broke up
in 1957 under the dual strains from his devotion to
revolutionary agitation and her devotion to her
faith as a Jehovah's Witness.
Mandela completed his degree at the University
of South Africa (UNISA) via correspondence, after
which he started with his law studies at the
University of Witwatersrand. During this time
Mandela lived in the Alexandra township.
In 1948 the Afrikaner-dominated National Party
came to power with its apartheid policies of White
Mandela was prominent in the African National
Congress (ANC) Defiance Campaign (1952) and the
Congress of the People (1955 ) where the Freedom
Charter was first adopted.
this time Mandela and Oliver Tambo operated the law
firm of Mandela & Tambo, legal counsel to many
blacks who would otherwise have been without legal
Mandela and 150 others were arrested in December
1956 and charged with treason. The marathon Treason
Trial of 1956–61 followed, but all were acquitted.
married Winnie, daughter of Columbus Madikizela, the
Minister of Agriculture in the Transkei, in 1958,
whilst an accused in the Treason Trial. He had two
children with Winnie. She was twice detained under
the Terrorism Act and repeatedly arrested whilst her
husband was imprisoned. (Their marriage was to end in
separation in 1992 and divorce four years later,
fuelled by political estrangement.)
the massacre at Sharpeville in March 1960, and the
subsequent banning of the ANC and many other
political organisations, the ANC took up armed
Albert Luthuli, criticised
at the time for inertia, was
peripheralised, and the ANC used the
1961 Conference for Mandela to issue a dramatic call
to arms, announcing the formation of Umkhonto we
Sizwe (translated as Spear of the Nation and
commonly abbreviated to MK).
In January 1962 Mandela toured Africa and visited
England. In all these countries he met the Heads of
State or other senior government officials. In
England he was received by Hugh Gaitskell, then
leader of the Labour Party, and by Jo Grimond,
leader of the Liberal Party.
became leader of MK and
co-ordinated a sabotage campaign against military
and government targets, and made plans for a
possible guerrilla war if sabotage failed to end
In August 1962 Mandela was arrested and
imprisoned after living on the run for seventeen
months - he was known as the Black Pimpernel. In
October 1962 he was sentenced to five years, charged
with leading workers to strike in 1961 and leaving
the country illegally.
While Mandela was in prison, police arrested
prominent ANC leaders in July 1963, at Liliesleaf
Farm, Rivonia, north of Johannesburg.
was charged with sabotage and other offences
in the Rivonia Trial and on 14 June 1964 was
sentenced, along with Ahmed Kathrada,
Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias
to life imprisonment on Robben Island.
Dennis Goldberg was the only white person
found guilty and was sentenced to life
imprisonment in a white prison in Pretoria.
20 April 1964 Mandela opened the defence
case in Pretoria Supreme Court by saying, "During
my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the
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."
Bram Fischer led the
defence and Harold Hanson was brought in at the
end of the case to plead mitigation. All
except Rusty Bernstein were found guilty,
but they escaped the gallows and were
sentenced to life imprisonment.
was imprisoned on Robben Island where he was
destined to remain for the next 18 of his 27
years in prison. It was there he wrote the
bulk of his autobiography, Long Walk to
In 1980 a statement
by Mandela was
smuggled out of Robben Island, which read, "Unite!
Mobilize! Fight on! Between the anvil of
united mass action and the hammer of the
armed struggle we shall crush apartheid!"
an offer of conditional release in return
for renouncing armed struggle in February
1985, Mandela remained in prison until the
resounding national and international
campaign to "Free Nelson Mandela!" culminated in his release on 11 February
1990 and the unbanning of the ANC (ordered
by State President Frederik de Klerk).
On the day of his release, Mandela made
a speech to the nation and the world from
the balcony of Cape Town city hall, "Our
resort to the armed struggle in 1960 with
the formation of the military wing of the
ANC was a purely defensive action against
the violence of apartheid. The factors which
necessitated the armed struggle still exist
today. We have no option but to continue. We
express the hope that a climate conducive to
a negotiated settlement would be created
soon, so that there may no longer be the
need for the armed struggle."
South Africa's first free elections were
held on 27 April 1994.
The ANC won the
majority in the election, and Mandela, as
leader of the ANC, was inaugurated as the
country's first black State President, with
the National Party's de Klerk as his deputy
president in the Government of National
Over the next five years Mandela
presided over the transition from white minority
apartheid rule to black majority
1999, on his 80th birthday, he married Graça
Machel, widow of Samora Machel, the former
Mozambican president who had been killed in
an air crash 12 years before.
After his retirement as President in
1999, Mandela went on to become an advocate
for a range of social and human rights
organisations, including his own Nelson Mandela
failing health led him to announce in 2004
that he would be retiring from public life.
He continues to make occasional exceptions,
particularly when speaking out on HIV/AIDS
or on child health. His son Makgatho died of AIDS
in January 2005.
In South Africa Mandela is often known
as Madiba, a title adopted by elders of
Mandela's clan. The title has come to be
synonymous with Nelson Mandela. Many South
Africans also refer to him reverently as 'mkhulu'
meaning old man or grandfather.