Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Mvezo, South Africa on July 18
DEATH OF FATHER
After his father passed away, Nelson was sent to live with Thembu Regent Jongintaba Dalindyebo
AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS
Mandela began informally attending African National Congress meetings
Mandela co-founded the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL)
Mandela was elected president of the ANCYL
Mandela attempted to access weapons for a guerilla movement to reform the country
He was arrested on December 5 and later joined 155 others on trial for teason
Mandela fled the country without a passport to gather support for the ANC. He was captured and arrested for incitement and dodging a death sentence
Mandela was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison
Mandela was released from jail in February
Mandela voted for the first time at age 76
Mandela suffered prolonged respiratory infection and died in Johannesburg, South Africa at age 95
July 2018: Birth of a Most Remarkable Man
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 will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to see realised. But if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Nelson Mandela, Rivonia Trial Speech, 1964
The early life of Rolihlahla Mandela
Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Mvezo into the Thembu royal family. He grew up in his mother’s village – she was the 3rd wife of his father – where he attended a Methodist school and was baptized “Nelson”. After his father died, Mandela’s mother took him to live with the Tembu regent, Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo. He was raised as one of their sons and continued his studies. Although, Mandela became steeped in stories of his African history, he still saw European rulers as patrons who brought education among other benefits to South Africa.
Mandela Grows Up
Mandela worked at academics and sports equally, as he pursued a career as an interpreter or clerk for a government agency. In 1941, Mandela moved to Johannesburg where he became progressively involved in the African National Congress (ANC) and less so in the Communist party – where he appreciated “Europeans, Africans, Indians, and Coloreds” interacting as equals.
Mandela’s ongoing education eventually had him studying law and becoming increasingly political. Initially, he affiliated with Anton Lembede and the ANC faction that promoted black African political independence. After the 1948 elections in which only whites could vote and new apartheid practices were put into place, Mandela and the ANC became more radical, endorsing strikes and boycotts. In the early 1950s, Mandela embraced a multi-racial front against apartheid as opposed to black-only; he promoted a classless society. As ANC protests grew, so did the number of Mandela’s arrests.
Ultimately in 1955, Mandela concluded that violence was the only way to reform the country and attempted to gain weaponry for a guerilla movement. He was arrested for “high treason” in 1956. Subsequently, there were riots, and in the early 60s, Africans burned passes they had been legally required to carry. Finally, in 1961, the high treason charges were dropped.
Mandela’s Prison Years
As Mandela radicalized, he and others inspired by Castro in Cuba formed an ANC splinter group – MK – that was the militarized arm. They bombed military installations, power plants, and other locations, but only when civilians were not present. He moved about South Africa as well as to other African countries in order to hide as well as learn enhanced military tactics.
In 1962, he was captured and arrested and after dodging a death sentence, was given life in prison – ultimately three prisons. At various points he was verbally and physically harassed by the guards, spent time at hard labor in a lime quarry, and allowed one letter and one visit every six months. Along with other political prisoners, he started a “university” and studied Islam and Afrikaans. He began his autobiography in prison and had pages of his text smuggled to London.
Eventually, his privileges increased and he was appointed patron of the United Democratic Front (UDF), a multi-racial group formed to work against apartheid. Throughout this period, even from prison, Mandela became increasingly influential in the cause of equality in South Africa. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, President de Klerk legalized the ANC, and in February of 1990, Mandela was released.
While making it clear that apartheid had not ended, he called for reconciliation and the right to vote for the black majority. He continued campaigning with the ANC, that by 1991 had a “50-strong multiracial, mixed gendered national executive committee that he led. Throughout the early 90s, Mandela realized that violence was continuing and was doing nothing but inflame passions. Mandela and de Klerk, meeting (separately) with President Bill Clinton, and sharing the Nobel Peace Prize. Mandela broadened his appeal by downplaying nationalism and garnering foreign investments and started his campaign for the presidency.
Mandela as President
The first time Mandela was allowed to vote in a national election was in 1994 when he voted for himself. He took 63% of the vote for the presidency. This came after a debate with de Klerk and amid Mandela-admitted election fraud. In May 1994, as a billion viewers watched and 4,000 attended, Mandela was inaugurated as the first black chief executive of South Africa. The “Rainbow Nation”*. His primary goal as president was to bring national reconciliation to South Africa – to transition to a multi-cultural democracy. He struggled to deal with issues including a disparity of wealth, lack of electricity and sanitation, and illiteracy rates. His foreign policy efforts brought criticism, such as his relationship with Indonesia (who had human rights abuses), Syria, Cuba, and Libya
An Elder Statesman
Upon retirement in 1999, Mandela was initially happy with a quiet life. But, once again, public service called. He had always felt as though he neglected HIV/AIDS during his term in office, so he rallied around the cause saying it “[w]as a war that had killed more than all previous wars….” He also became vocally critical of NATO’s intervention into Kosovo and the war in Iraq. Finally, at age 85 and in ill health, Mandela “retired from retirement” and sought a more secluded life. He succumbed to ongoing respiratory issues on December 5th 2013 at 95 years of age.
Did You Know?
- His birth name, Rolihlahla, means troublemaker.
- Mandela and his partner Oliver Tambo set up South Africa’s 1st black-run law firm in 1952.
- Mandela’s nickname became the “Black Pimpernel” after the Scarlet Pimpernel for his ability to change his appearance and adopt disguises to avoid arrest.
- Long Walk to Freedom, an autobiography Mandela had written in prison, was finally published in December 1994.
- Mandela used sports, and specifically hosting the 1995 Rugby World Cup, to bring the black and white communities together in South Africa.
- July 18 of every year is a global holiday in his honor.
- Along with more than 250 awards, Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize and the Lenin Peace Prize.
* Archbishop Desmond Tutu coined the phrase after Mandela was elected. Mandela developed the concept when he stated, “Each of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
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