Who’s Nelson Mandela?

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Nelson Mandela, also known as Madiba, was the 11th president of South Africa and the first black person to hold the position. He is credited with ending apartheid and is recognized as a leader of economic and social reform. Mandela spent 27 years in prison before being released in 1990 and becoming president in 1994. He implemented many social reforms during his time in office and continued to work for the social and economic good of South Africa after leaving the presidency.

Nelson Mandela, also known as Madiba and ‘the father of the nation’, was the 11th president of South Africa, serving from 11 to 1994. He was the first black person to hold this position and his was the first election democracy for the country. His rise to office is all the more significant considering it came after a 1,999-year prison term for treason. Largely credited with ending apartheid in this region, he is internationally recognized as a leader of economic and social reform and has received hundreds of significant honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize.

Life and training

On July 18, 1918 in Mvezo, Umtatu, Rolihlahla “Nelson” Mandela was born to Gadia Henry Mphakanyiswa and Nosekeni Fanny. Gadia served as a court advisor to King Thembu – his grandfather had been king of the Thembu dynasty – and Mandela was one of 13 children he fathered while maintaining four wives in different villages. As a boy he grew up with his mother and two sisters in Qunu, where he lived a very simple life playing with other boys and tending herds of cattle.

Although his father was a follower of Quamata, a god commonly worshiped in southeast South Africa, his mother was a Methodist, and he was raised in the Christian faith and began his education at Wesleyan Mission School when he was seven years old. It was while at this facility that he obtained the name ‘Nelson’, which a teacher reportedly gave him because he could not pronounce his real name correctly and because British influences made it quite customary for academic leaders to give new titles to children they have taught. As was common at the time, he was the first in his family to go to school.

At the age of nine, Gadia died, and out of respect, Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo and his wife, Noengland, adopted Mandela to give him a chance at a better life. His mother took him to live in the “Grand Palace” of Mqhekezweni, where he continued his studies and had the same duties and expectations as the other sons of the chief, Nomafu and Justice. It only took two years to finish the three-year Junior Certificate program at Clarkbury Boarding Institute. Although it was in this institution that he socialized and learned much about African history and Western culture, he still believed that his destiny was to follow Jongintaba’s wishes and become an adviser, and was, by his own later admission, narrow-minded towards Thembuland.

Life as a young adult
In 1937, 19-year-old Mandela began attending Healdtown at Fort Beaufort, which was the Methodist school traditionally attended by Thembu royalty. He then transferred to the University of Fort Hare in Alice, Eastern Cape to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree, focusing on law. While there, he was involved in several protests, including one regarding the quality of the food served, and ended up leaving before completing his degree.

Returning to his guardian family, he found that Jongintaba had arranged his marriage and, in distress, fled to Johannesburg in 1941. He completed his degree in 1943 using correspondence courses through the University of South Africa (UNISA), simultaneously working as a law clerk, and befriended members of both the Communist Party and the African National Congress (ANC). He attended his first ANC march during this period. Although those close to him still urged him to become a councillor, he chose to continue his law studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.
As his involvement with the ANC grew, Mandela recognized the need to involve young Africans in the movement towards equality and freedom. He was instrumental in the formation of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL), which was officially started in 1944. In the same year he married Evelyn Ntoko Mase. He and Evelyn had four children: Mandiba “Thembi” Thembekile, Makaziwe (died in infancy), Makaziwe Phumba (named in honor of the first Makaziwe), and Makgatho Mandela. His primary place of work was the law firm of Terblanche and Briggish for several years, but he eventually teamed up with a longtime friend, Oliver Tambo, to form his own firm, Mandela and Tambo, the first black law firm of South Africa.

Apartheid was a way of life in the 1950s given South Africa’s political climate. He and Tambo provided pro bono and low-cost legal aid to blacks. They were also involved in the apartheid cause, believing that blacks and whites should not be segregated. Their actions and views brought them significant criticism from the government, which ultimately caused them to lose their operating permit and required them to move the business.
Middle age and activism
Cabinet members closely watched Mandela’s activities in the early 1950s, seeking to ban him from public appearances as his popularity, influence, and involvement in political protests grew. They arrested him, along with a group of anti-apartheid supporters, in 1956, but after a lengthy trial, the whole group was acquitted. The strain of these conflicts, coupled with personality and religious differences, strained her marriage, and Evelyn filed for divorce. He withdrew the filing, but re-filed and completed the proceedings in 1958. Just three months after the divorce was finalized, he married Winnie Madikizela, with whom he had two daughters, Zanani (Zani) and Zindziswa Mandela-Hlongwane.

As peaceful tactics were unsuccessful and opposition violence was only getting worse, Mandela soon gave up on non-violent protests. Seeing no other choice, he led an armed division of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation. His aggressive strategy consisted of human rights abuses, as ANC guerrillas killed many civilians, but he insisted it was the only way to end apartheid.
Government authorities arrested Mandela for leading a workers’ strike in 1962, and he and several other men were charged with sabotage in 1963. He was convicted and sent to Robben Island, where he would spend most of his 27 years in prison. During this time, he continued to work on his legal studies and discussed matters with other political prisoners. He also found a way to maintain many of his communications with the ANC and, over time, the international demand for his freedom grew.
The pro-apartheid South African president, PW Botha, offered to release him in 1985, but only on the condition that he stop the armed conflict. He wouldn’t agree with that. Botha suffered a stroke in 1989 and his replacement, Frederik Willem de Klerk, arranged for Mandela to be fired. He was released on February 2, 1990.
Ascent to the presidency
After his release from prison, Mandela toured several countries in opposition to apartheid and became president of the ANC in 1991, taking over from Tambo, whose health was not good. Through his influence, she worked to unify the organization, while also negotiating an end to the violent protests. As part of these negotiations, he was able to stage a multi-racial general election and, after campaigning against de Klerk, was elected South Africa’s first black president in 1994. Those who attended the May inauguration included the likes of Hilary Clinton, Yassar Arafat and Fidel Castro, with billions of television viewers around the world.
During his time as president, Mandela implemented many social reforms, ending apartheid once and for all by assuring whites that they were welcome and needed in the country. He has lobbied for changes such as better education, increased welfare benefits, the implementation of more water and electricity systems, and the construction of more housing. Various grants and pensions were also part of his job, and in 1998 he instituted the Skills Development and Employment Equity Acts, which fought discrimination and helped people learn what they needed to be successful in the workplace.
Although Winnie remained married to Mandela throughout her captivity, she held even more radical political views, and was tried and found guilty of participating in kidnappings and assaults. She was also rumored that she had been unfaithful. These elements separated the couple and they separated in 1992 during the heart of his reorganization of the ANC. Their divorce was finalized in 1996, two years after he came to power.
Post-presidency activities
After leaving the presidency, Mandela continued to work for the social and economic good of South Africa. He founded the Nelson Mandela Foundation, as well as several fellowship programs, and has worked to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS. It was common for him to meet celebrities and world political leaders. At the age of 80, he married for the third time in 1998 to Graça Machel. He remains an important political figure, not just in South African history, but in international affairs.

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