Nelson Mandela Quick Facts
Mandela spent most of his life in prison since 1962. Madiba was released from Robben Island prison on 11 February 1990 after the initiation of negotiations that finally led to the establishment of a democratically–elected government. The former South African president Nelson Mandela was accredited for championing reconciliation between the black and the white South Africans.
Apart from his efforts of reconciliation, Mandela also played an important role in introducing various policies which were aimed at alleviating poverty among black South Africans, while at the same time, putting structures to ensure equality of all races especially after the practice of apartheid which propagated racial segregation in all public places.
The apartheid was characterized by racial segregation between the white and the black race with the black race having its own schools, public transportation system, and hospitals. The white race also had its separate public utilities but these were of superior quality given the fact that black South Africans were not even eligible to vote or participate in the running of the government.
Early Biography: Family Tree and Name Origin
Nelson Mandela was born on 14 June 1918 in a small village called Umtata in South Africa. Madiba belongs to the Thembu dynasty who reigned in Transkei region located in the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa. His great grandfather Ngubengcuka ruled the Inkosi Enkhulu, also referred to as the Thembu people. Mandela’s father Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa was a famous chief in a town called Mvezo. Mandela’s earlier political experience was shaped by his interactions with the colonial governments when his father, from his role as a chief, was moved to Qunu due to his opposition of the colonial rule that alienated him to the government.
Rolihlahla Mandela was given the English name Nelson by his teacher, Miss Mdingane. The name Rolihlahla means to “pull a branch of a tree” or can be loosely translated into “trouble maker.” Mandela’s father died of tuberculosis when Mandela was only nine years and he was adopted by his uncle. His uncle has a mission school called Wesleyan where he was taken, and there he completed his junior certificate in a record of two years (the average time students spend in taking the course was three years).
Getting a Degree
He later went to Wesleyan College in Fort Beaufort. During his stay in the college, he developed an interest in boxing and he excelled in that sport. He also attended the Fort Hare University where he studied Bachelor of Arts. After college, Mandela moved to Johannesburg where he was briefly employed as a guard at a mine; he also worked at a law firm as a clerk.
During this time, Mandela developed an interest in law and enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand where he studied law. During this time he met some students who became his lifelong friends, these included Joe Slovo who eventually became his Minister of Housing and Harry Schwarz who became his Ambassador to Washington. The friends became strong opponents of the apartheid rule. They zealously lobbied against apartheid and were instrumental to the process of ending racial discrimination.
Leading ANC against Apartheid
After the victory of the National Party, which was dominated by Afrikaners in 1948, Mandela began actively participating in politics because the National party supported the apartheid policy that upholds racial segregation among South Africans. Mandela was at this time working at a law firm with a lawyer and his longtime friend named Oliver Tambo.
Nelson Mandela was greatly influenced by India’s Mahatma Gandhi especially his philosophy of satyagraha or the nonviolent resistance. Despite his desire to lead the nonviolent resistance like Mahatma Gandhi, Mandela became the head of the ANC’s militant wing called the Umkhonto we Sizwe which means ‘the spear of the nation.’ The role of the Umkhonto we Sizwe was to sabotage key government institutions and strategic public utilities like railway lines.
The ANC resorted to the use of violence because they had tried to negotiate peacefully with the apartheid government to no avail. Instead, the government met ANC members with violence, according closing speech testimony. Mandela was a key personality to raising funds abroad and also organizing paramilitary training for the members in foreign countries. Indeed, the ANC received support from many African countries, most of which had recently attained their independence from the colonial masters.
The group played a key role in the bombing of government installations, such as post offices, native magistrate courts, pass offices and even railway lines. The violent actions led to the banning of the ANC, and some of the members such as Mandela were labeled terrorists by the apartheid government.
Some countries also banned them from visiting especially those which supported Britain and the minority white rule. In fact, the United States of America banned the ANC members and the group was considered an outlaw up to the year 2008.
The banned members could not visit the USA without permission from the Secretary of State. Despite all of these, many African countries were sympathetic to the ANC members and readily welcomed them. The Africans who supported pan Africanism like Ghana’s president Kwame Nkrumah readily offered funding and support to the ANC militant wing.
Mandela justified the actions of the ANC’s militant wing as their last resort against many years of oppression, discrimination, and violence of the apartheid government. The violent actions by the group was started in 1961 after the failure of the apartheid government to respond to ANC’s demand that a national convention on constitutional review be called with the involvement of all South Africans regardless of their race or social status.
Indeed, the acts of the group were so devastating that by the time Mandela was being arrested, he was charged with a total of 193 acts of sabotage. One of the most devastating acts of the Umkhonto we Sizwe was the bombing of a church located at Church Street in Pretoria where over 19 people died and over 217 were injured. Later, after becoming the president of South Africa, Mandela admitted that the ANC also violated human rights in its struggle to end the apartheid rule.
Mandela stated during the trial that he does not only oppose the domination of the white, but is also against the dominion of the black Africans. He preferred a free and democratic society where each was equal without any form of oppression.
Nelson Mandela was arrested on August 5th 1962, after being on the run for over 17 months. There are various accounts how Mandela was arrested. Some claim that there were traitors among the ANC rank and file. However, Mandela himself refuted the claims stating that his arrest was due to his own carelessness and his failure to conceal his actions.
Among the charges which Mandela faced was the manufacturing of explosives. In his opening speech during the trial at the Pretoria Supreme Court, Mandela maintained and justified the use of force by the ANC, stating that they had tried to use peaceful means without much success, hence the reason they opted for the use of violence.
Furthermore they saw the use of force to respond to the use of violence by the apartheid government especially during the Sharpeville Massacre.
Spending 17 Years in the Robben Island Prison
Mandela was imprisoned in the Robben Island for 17 years. Despite being in prison, the reputation of Mandela grew and he was later on considered the most significant leader among the black South African activists. Mandela faced hard labor in lime quarry while in prison. His imprisonment was made worse by racial segregation as the whites received favorable treatment while the black South Africans were inhumanely subjected to merciless labor.
The prisoners were also classified into groups and Mandela, being a D-group prisoner, was only allowed a single visitor and a letter for every six months. While in prison, Mandela enrolled in correspondence study at the University of London and he received a Bachelor of Laws Degree.
In 1995, the South African President P.W. Botha offered Mandela freedom on condition that he give up all forms of violence. Mandela refused the offer, stating that his freedom will not amount to anything if the ANC remained banned. He noted that prisoners could not negotiate and only free men negotiate because prisoners could not enter into contracts.
Following his release in 1990, Mandela assumed the leadership of the ANC. Mandela was elected to the leadership of the ANC in 1991 after the organization was recognized by the government declassifying as an illegal group. The members like Nelson Mandela, who had been classified as terrorists, were also allowed to take part in the elective position in government.
- Action Against Hunger
- Artists for a New South Africa
- CHOC South Africa
- Chris Tucker Foundation
- Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Foundation
- Girls Not Brides
- Hear The World
- Ithemba Trust
- Make Poverty History
- Mineseeker Foundation
- Nelson Mandela Foundation
- ONE Campaign
- Reach For A Dream Foundation
- Red Cross
- SOS Children’s Village
- St. Mary’s Hospital
- The Elders
- Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Center for Africa
- 2012: Awarded the Brand Laureate Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award by the Asia Pacific Brands Foundation
- 2009: Received Arthur Ashe Courage award presented by Vanessa and Serena Williams
- 2009: 18th of July was set as Mandela Day by the United Nations General Assembly
- 2006: Listed as No. 2 in the 50 heroes of our times by the New Statesman
- 2006: Made Honorary member of Manchester United
- 2006: Made an Ambassador of Conscience by Amnesty International
- 2005: Listed among the most influential people by the Time Magazine
- 1995: Appointed Honorary member of the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II
- 2010: Awarded Honorary Degree from Queen’s University, Kingstone Ontario
- 2010: Conferred an honorary doctorate of Letters by Brown University, United States
- 2008: Received LLD honoris Causa from Michigan State University, USA
- 2006: Awarded Honorary Doctorate in government and Politics by the Universiti Teknologi Mara, Malaysia
- 2005: Awarded Honorary Degree by Amherst College
- 2003: Awarded Honorary Doctorate in Law from the National University of Ireland,Galway
- 2002: Awarded Honorary Doctorate in Law by the University of Rhodes, South Africa
- 2001: Awarded Honorary Doctorate in Law by Ryerson University Toronto Canada.
- 2001: Awarded LLH Honoris Cause by the University of Free State
- 2000: Awarded Honorary Doctorate of Laws by Trinity College , Dublin
- 1999: Received Honorary Doctorate from Leiden University, Netherlands
- 1999: Received Honorary Doctorate from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow
- 1999: Received Doctorate of Law from University of Botswana