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Nelson Mandela | Beloved Madiba!

A short biography and quotes of Nelson Rolihlala Mandela

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Mr Nelson Mandela is still the most positive and unifying figure in South Africa today.
Regardless of race or colour, South Africans who are divided on many issues share a common admiration and respect for him.

nelson mandela

Nelson Mandela Biographies for KidsNelson Mandela Books

He is often referred to with great affection and respect by his clan name of "Madiba" . Knowing some of the details of Mr Mandela's life can only increase your respect for him as a remarkable human being.

Short biography of Nelson Mandela

Here is a short summary and timeline of Nelson Mandela. For more information I recommend strongly that you get your hands on his autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom . The picturesque phrasing in the book makes it so real, you'll feel as though you're sitting talking to him in person.

Early life and education

Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 at a village called Mvezo in the Transkei. As a small babe he and his mother moved to Qunu, the village he says holds his childhood memories. This is the place to which he returns now for peace during his retirement.

At age 7, Mandela started primary school and it was here that he was named 'Nelson' by his teacher - his given name, Rolihlahla, being deemed to hard to pronounce for white people! (In the past white people seldom made an effort to master African names and so most black South Africans had their African name and then chose a Western name to ease interaction with white employers. This is slowly changing.)

Once Mandela had completed his schooling he enrolled at the University College of Fort Hare. These studies were interrupted when he left home to escape an arranged marriage. He settled in Johannesburg and completed his degree by correspondence and started to study law while working as a legal clerk. It was at this time that he met and married his first wife, Evelyn Mase.

Politics...Nelson Mandela and Apartheid

Nelson Mandela describes becoming politicised as 'a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities'. He joined the ANC and helped transform it into a mass movement striving for national freedom. In 1944 he helped found the ANC Youth League.

picture of nelson mandela

The Nationalist Party came to power in 1948 and spurred the ANC to adopt a program of boycott, strike, civil disobedience and non-co-operation.

Mandela's involvement in this defiance campaign in 1949 led to his first criminal conviction. He was given a suspended sentence. A little later he was served with a banning order. This restricted him to the Johannesburg area in an effort to interfere with his political activities.

The apartheid law-machine gathered momentum. Mandela was involved in struggle after struggle with the authorities throughout the 1950's.

He was banned, arrested and imprisoned. He was one of those charged in the enormous Treason Trial in 1956. In 1957, his first marriage ended in divorce, largely because of the strains of his political involvement.

The Treason Trial took years to resolve. In 1960 Mandela was arrested - the ANC had been outlawed following the Sharpeville massacre. However the Treason Trial collapsed in 1961 and Mandela was released.

The Black Pimpernel

During 1958, Mandela married his second wife, Winnie Madikizela Mandela. As of 1960 the ANC had been operating 'underground'. Mandela emerged as a leading figure in the organisation.

He became known as the Black Pimpernel because (like his famous Northern Hemisphere counterpart, the Scarlet Pimpernel) he was continually on the move and living subversively, separated from his family and using various disguises to evade capture.

In 1961 Mandela and the other ANC leaders saw that violence was inevitable. The government was meeting peaceful demands with force. The situation was deteriorating. The ANC's military wing was formed and under Nelson Mandela's leadership a sabotage campaign began.

Arrested and convicted - twice

Mandela left South Africa for military training. The authorities arrested him when he returned. He was charged with leaving the country illegally and incitement to strike and and sentenced to 5 years in prison.

While he was serving this sentence he was charged with sabotage in the Rivonia Trial. His conviction in the Rivonia Trial resulted in his sentence to life imprisonment.

This quote is from the end of his famous statement from the dock at the Rivonia Trial.

"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."

Nelson Mandela served 27 years in prison, most of them at Robben Island. He was released on February 11, 1990. He never wavered in his principles and refused various offers of remission of sentence in return for agreeing to different conditions. His response to the last of these offers was this:
"Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Only free men can negotiate."

Nelson Mandela Freedom
Since his release

Nelson Mandela was elected President of the ANC in 1991. He helped negotiate the settlement that made transformed South Africa into a democracy. In 1993 he and FW De Klerk (the last State President of the 'old' South Africa) were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

In 1994, all South Africans voted in one election for the first time ever! What an amazing day that was! Look at the queues of people waiting to vote.

sa 1994 elections

Photo taken from

Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first president of the democratic South Africa on May 10, 1994. I love this photograph of him, taken at his inauguration. He’s so light-hearted, so jubilant.

nelson mandela inauguration 1994

Photo taken from

Nelson Mandela’s second marriage ended in 1996 after four years of separation. In 1998 (on his 80th birthday!) he married his third wife, Graca Machel, former wife of the late Samora Machel of Mozambique.

Mandela completed his five-year term as South Africa's President before handing over to President Thabo Mbeki. He continued to be active in global affairs until 2004.

Retirement at last

On June 1, 2004 he announced his retirement from public life saying that he wanted to retire while he was in good health to be with his family, friends and himself. He wanted time to read, think and reflect quietly while working on his memoirs.

You deserve a long and peaceful retirement, Madiba, and I salute you for the amazing gift you have been to our country and the world.

You may find these following related pages interesting:
Robben Island
From Nelson Mandela to the Homepage




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