On 18 July 1918, in the rural village of Mvezo in the Transkei, Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Madiba clan. His mother was Nosekeni Fanny, the third wife of Gadla Hendry Mandela.
A year after Mandela’s birth, the family moved to the nearby village of Qunu, where Mandela spent some of the happiest moments of his childhood.
When Rolihlahla Mandela began school, black children were given English names by their missionary teachers. He was named "Nelson" by his first teacher, Miss Mdingane. Mandela was a serious student who understood that a good education would help build his future career.
In 1927 Mandela’s father died and Chief Jongintaba became Mandela’s guardian. Jongintaba ensured that Mandela attended well-respected schools and Mandela continued his tertiary education when he moved to Johannesburg.
Emerging as a Leader
In 1952, after achieving his BA degree and a two-year diploma, Mandela was qualified to practice law. He and Oliver Tambo established South Africa’s first black law firm, Mandela & Tambo. Mandela had wanted to become a lawyer in order to fight for equal rights and stand up for people who were being treated unjustly. He was a charismatic lawyer and he and Oliver made a very successful partnership.
Over the years Mandela had gradually become more involved with the African National Congress and in 1944 he formed, along with Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and a few other young men, the ANC Youth League.
From the beginning of the 1950s, the ANC began to seriously challenge the apartheid regime. The more that the ANC activists stood up to the regime, the more fearful the ruling government became. The result was harsher punishment and tighter policing. In a countrywide police swoop on 5 December 1955, 156 activists were arrested, including Nelson Mandela, which led to the 1956 Treason Trial. He was acquitted on 29 March 1961.
In June 1961, Mandela was asked to lead the armed struggle and establish the autonomous military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). During this period, Mandela would be nicknamed the "Black Pimpernel" as he moved underground to co-ordinate sabotage campaigns.
On 11 January 1962 Mandela secretly left South Africa to gain international support for the struggle and receive military training. Upon his return to South Africa a few months later, he was arrested in a police roadblock outside Howick on 5 August.
In October 1963 Mandela joined nine others on trial for sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island, where he was to spend 27 years until his release on 11 February 1990.
On 10 May 1994 he was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president.
Nelson Mandela will always be remembered for his talks with the white government and the slow dissembling of the apartheid regime. Through his perseverance for peace and calm leadership, Mandela was able to unify a nation that was fraught with distrust and bubbling with antagonism. Madiba will always be loved and respected for his wisdom, clarity of thought and foresight.
Mandela was not only a president of South Africa, he was a statesman.
He died in Johannesburg on Thursday, 5 December 2013, aged 95.
Please visit the Nelson Mandela Foundation for more information on the life and times of Mandela – www.nelsonmandela.org
The content on this page was last updated on 6 December 2013