From being the first South African to be elected in fully representative democratic polls to become President of his country (after spending 27 years in prison), to receiving over 250 awards most notably the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, Nelson Mandela has remained that one African icon that has attracted several lines from authors and researchers around the world. He was and still is a global icon. To Mary Benson, a South African civil rights campaigner and author, Mandela is “a born mass leader who could not help magnetising people”. American Political scientists Betty Glad and Robert Blanton, see him as an “exceptionally intelligent, shrewd, and loyal leader”.
Who really is Nelson Mandela?
When Nelson’s parents, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa and Noqaphi Nosekeni welcomed their bundle of joy Rolihlahla (Nelson Mandela) on July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, South Africa, they never in their wildest imagination pictured him spending 27 years of his life in prison for any reason whatsoever. They also never knew he would eventually grow to lead his people to their land of freedom. But given the name Rolihlahla (a Xhosa term which colloquially means troublemaker), it was obvious his defiance would someday work for the good of his people. He became known by his clan name Madiba in later years and also took the name Mandela from his grandfather afterwards.
A Xhosa, Mandela was born into the Thembu royal family in Mvezo, Union of South Africa. On how he was named Nelson, he once remarked, “No one in my family had ever attended school. On the first day of school, my teacher Miss Mdingane gave each of us an English name. This was the custom among Africans in those days and was undoubtedly due to the British bias toward our education. That day, Miss Mdingane told me that my new name was Nelson. Why this particular name, I have no idea.”
Mandela grew to study law at the University of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand before working as a lawyer in Johannesburg. There he became involved in anti-colonial and African nationalist politics, joining the ANC in 1943 and co-founding its Youth League in 1944. After the National Party’s white-only government established apartheid; a system of racial segregation that privileged whites, Mandela and the ANC committed themselves to its overthrow. He was appointed president of the ANC’s Transvaal branch, rising to prominence for his involvement in the 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1955 Congress of the People. He was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the 1956 Treason Trial. Influenced by Marxism, he secretly joined the banned South African Communist Party (SACP). Although initially committed to non-violent protest, in association with the SACP he co-founded the militant uMkhonto we Sizwe in 1961 and led a sabotage campaign against the government. He was arrested and imprisoned in 1962, and, following the Rivonia Trial, was sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the state.
Mandela served 27 years in prison, split between the prison of Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. Amid growing domestic and international pressure and fears of racial civil war, President F. W. de Klerk released him in 1990. Mandela and de Klerk led efforts to negotiate an end to apartheid, which resulted in the 1994 multiracial general election in which Mandela led the ANC to victory and became president of South Africa. Leading a broad coalition government which promulgated a new constitution, Mandela emphasised reconciliation between the country’s racial groups and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. Economically, his administration retained its predecessor’s liberal framework despite his own socialist beliefs, also introducing measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty and expand healthcare services.
Mandela was a controversial figure for much of his life. Although critics on the right denounced him as a communist terrorist and those on the far left deemed him too eager to negotiate and reconcile with apartheid’s supporters, he gained international acclaim for his activism. Globally regarded as an icon of democracy and social justice, he received more than 250 honours, including the Nobel Peace Prize. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to by his Thembu clan name, Madiba, and described as the “Father of the Nation”.
Mandela fathered six children with three wives, Evelyn Ntoko Mase (1944-1958) with whom he had four children but three died tragically. He divorced Evelyn and married Winnie Madikizela-Mandela between 1958-1996 and they had two children together. In 1998, he married Graça Machel on his 80th birthday and she remained his last wife till his death in 2013, though without a child. Mandela had 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Why is Nelson Mandela Biografrica’s African of the Month?
No discussion about global human rights is complete without the mention of Nelson Mandela. Mandela brought peace to a racially divided country and led the fight for human rights around the world. Before now, numerous lives have been lost with many others displaced from their homes as a result of white supremacy in South Africa. But Mandela enthroned peace in the country, maintaining that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights irrespective of colour. In fact, Mandela is considered the father of Modern South Africa as he was highly instrumental in tearing down the oppressive government of the blacks in South Africa and installing democracy.
Mandela spent many years in prison, confined to a small cell made of damp concrete that measured just 8 feet by 7 feet. He slept on a straw mat and had to undergo surgery on an enlarged prostate gland, as well as battled tuberculosis, which was made worse by the damp conditions in his cell. Despite these hardships, Mandela remained committed to fighting for the rights of his people.
In 1993, having seen him worthy enough to be rewarded for his destruction of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for laying the foundation for democracy. In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, he won over 250 other awards.
After retirement from politics, Mandela started the Nelson Mandela Foundation which focused on combating HIV/AIDS. The Foundation has saved millions of people.
Mandela’s legacy in South Africa includes not only his fight against apartheid but also his support for rural development and school construction. Today, he is remembered for these accomplishments as well.
In 2009, the United Nations proclaimed Mandela’s birthday (July 18th) to be Nelson Mandela International Day. The holiday asks people to spend 67 minutes doing something good for others, which represents the 67 years he spent working towards change.
Internationally, Mandela acted as a mediator in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial and served as secretary-general of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999. He declined a second presidential term and was succeeded by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. Mandela became an elder statesman.
Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013, in Johannesburg. He was 95 years old. After his death was announced, his life was remembered and celebrated in South Africa as well as around the world. Numerous memorial services were held, including one by the South African government on December 10.
Long Live Nelson Rolihlahla Madiba Mandela!
Long Live South Africa!!
Long live Africa!!!
Edited with some excerpts from Wikipedia