Nelson Mandela born 18 July 1918 is a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the first black South African to hold the office, and the first elected in a fully representative, multiracial election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalised racism, poverty and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as the President of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1991 to 1997. Internationally, Mandela was the Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999.
Here are some interesting facts about Nelson Mandela
- Controversial for much of his life, right-wing critics denounced Mandela as a terrorist and communist sympathiser. He nevertheless gained international acclaim for his anti-colonial and anti-apartheid stance, having received over 250 awards, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Soviet Order of Lenin. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to by his Xhosa clan name of Madiba or as Tata meaning Father; he is often described as “the father of the nation”.
- Nelson Mandela experienced the system of apartheid in Johannesburg forbiding the black population to vote, travel without permission or own land
- When his father died the chief of the Thembu clan, Jongintaba Dalindyebo became his guardian ensuring he received an excellent education
- Nelson Mandela once worked as a guard at a mine
- He was expelled from the University of Fort Hare after joining a student protest. He later completed his degree through Unisa, which he followed up with a law degree from Wits University.
- Nelson Mandela opened the first black legal firm in South Africa with fellow lawyer Oliver Tambo providing free legal counsel to many blacks
- Mandela’s first wife, Evelyn Mase, was a nurse and Sisulu’s cousin. She was the breadwinner in the family and supported Mandela while he studied law at Wits University and became further involved in politics. They had four children together and divorced in 1958.
- He was not only the first commander in chief of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, but was also, together with Oliver Tambo, co-founder of the country’s first black law firm, Mandela & Tambo, which defended people affected by apartheid laws.
- In 1962, he left the country to garner support for the armed struggle. During this time he received guerilla training in Morocco and Ethiopia.
- The circumstances surrounding his arrest at a police roadblock outside of Howick later that year remain unclear but it is believed that an American CIA agent tipped off the police about his whereabouts. He was convicted of sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government.
- During his time in prison, Mandela was restricted to a 2m x 2.5m cell, with nothing but a bedroll on the floor and a bucket for sanitation in it. He was consigned to hard labour in a lime quarry for much of that time and was, at first, only allowed one visitor and one letter every six months.
- Mandela wrote a memoir during the 70s, copies of which were wrapped in plastic containers and buried in a vegetable garden which he kept at prison. It was hoped that fellow prisoner Mac Maharaj, who was due for release, would be able to smuggle it out. But the containers were discovered when prison authorities began building a wall through the garden. As punishment, Mandela’s study privileges were revoked.
- After he was separated from his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, he asked struggle stalwart Amina Cachalia, with whom he had a long relationship, to marry him but she turned him down. On his 80th birthday, Mandela married Graça Machel, the widow of Mozambique’s former president Samora Machel.
- The United Nations declared his birthday, July 18, Nelson Mandela International Day. This was the first time the UN dedicated a particular day to a person.
- Hundreds of awards and honours have been bestowed on Mandela. Among others, he is an honorary citizen of Canada, an honorary member of the British Labour Party, and an honorary member of Manchester United. He also had a nuclear particle (the ‘Mandela particle’), a prehistoric woodpecker (Australopicus nelsonmandelai) and an orchid (Paravanda Nelson Mandela) named after him.