Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born July 18, 19l8 in Transkei, South Africa in the village of Mvezo in Umtatu, then a part of South Africa’s Cape Province. He was given the forename Rolihlahla, colloquially meaning “troublemaker.”
Later he became known by his clan name, Madiba, a member of the Thembu royal family which ruled the Transkei region where his father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, was a local chief and served as a counselor for several tribal chiefs, but lost his status and fortune in a dispute with the local magistrate.
After this the family move to Qunu a smaller village in a narrow grassy valley with no roads, where Mandela grew up with his two sisters and tended herds as a cattle-boy. They lived in huts, food was scarce and ate a local harvest of maize, sorghum, pumpkin and beans, which was all they could afford. Water came from springs and streams and cooking was done outdoors.
“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 of our education. That day, Miss Mdingane told me that my new name was Nelson. Why this particular name I have no idea” he said in an interview in 1994.
When Mandela was about nine, his father came to stay at Qufu, where he died of an undiagnosed ailment which Mandela believed to be lung disease.
Feeling “cut adrift” he later said that he inherited his father’s “proud rebelliousness” and “stubborn sense of fairness.”
He was raised by Jongintaba and his wife Noengland alongside their son Justice and daughter Nomafu where he was treated as equal and given the same responsibilities but he was unable to see his mother for many years.
Nelson Mandela enrolled at the University College of Fort Hare in 1939, the only university for blacks and was considered Africa’s equivalent of Oxford or Harvard, where he prepared for a career in civil service as an interpreter or clerk—regarded as the best profession a black man could obtain at the time.
Soon after he returned home, Jongintaba announced that he had arranged a marriage for his adopted son, that was within his rights of the tribal custom, feeling trapped, he run away to Johannesburg, where he worked a variety of jobs, including as a guard and a clerk, while completing his bachelor’s degree via correspondence courses. He then enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg to study law.
Mandela became an active member of the African National Congress in 1942. Within the group they formed another which they called the African National Congress Youth League.
In 1949, the ANC officially adopted the Youth League’s methods of boycott, strike, civil disobedience and non-cooperation, with policy goals of full citizenship, redistribution of land, trade union rights, and free education for all children.
The next 20 years, Mandela was the leader in many peaceful, non-violent actions against the South African government and their racist policies. He also founded a law firm that provided free and low-cost legal counsel to unrepresented blacks.
In 1961, Mandela started believing that strikes were the only way and helped organize a three-day national workers’ strike. He was arrested and brought to trial the next year for leading the strike and was sentenced to 5 years, but the year after that, he and 10 other ANC leaders were brought to trial again and sentenced to life imprisonment for political offenses, including sabotage.
In 1985, President P.W. Botha offered Mandela a release from prison with the condition to cease armed struggle but he rejecedt the offer. Finally when Botha had a stroke and was replaced by President Frederik Willem de Klerk, Mandela’s release was finally announced, on February 11, 1990. De Klerk also removed the banon the ANC, removed restrictions on political groups, and suspended executions.
In 1993, Mandela and President de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work toward dismantling apartheid. On April 27 of the next year South Africa held its first democratic elections.
At the age of 77 on May 10, 1994 he become the first black president of South Africa. The same year he published his autobiography “The Long Walk to Freedom” that he wrote secretly while in prison.
He also published a number of books about his life and struggles, among them No Easy Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela: The Struggle is my Life; and Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales.
In 2001 Mandela was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer and at the age of 85, he announced his formal retirement from public life and returned to his native village of Qunu.
Since January 2001 he has been suffering with a recurring lung infections, and this is the fourth time he has been admitted to the hospital since December.
Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s current president, issued a statement in response to public concern over Mandela’s recent health scare, asking for support in the form of prayer: “We appeal to the people of South Africa and the world to pray for our beloved Madiba and his family and to keep them in their thoughts,” Zuma said. “We have full confidence in the medical team and know that they will do everything possible to ensure recovery.”
People and school kids from the Rainbow Hill Christian School gathered around his home in Johannesburg, singing and praying for the recovery of their beloved Madiba.
“All these admissions to the hospital has been preparing us for this, that this may be the end, and that is enough to tell us this is very serious,” said Father Victor Phalana of Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Pretoria, who was touring the museum with two Catholic priests from Uganda.
Nelson Mandela’s daughter Zenani who is the South Africa’s ambassador to Argentina, arrived at the hospital to see him. Former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela also visited giving us signs of the seriousness of Mandela’s health condition.
Written by Edgar Soto