Rolihlahla Mandela was born in a village near Umtata in
the Transkei. His father was the principal councillor to
the Acting Paramount Chief of Thembuland. After his
father s death, the young Rolihlahla became the
Paramount Chief's ward to be groomed to assume high
office. However, influenced by the cases that came
before the Chief's court, he determined to become a
lawyer. Hearing the elders stories of his ancestors
valour during the wars of resistance in defence of their
fatherland, he dreamed also of making his own
contribution to the freedom struggle of his people.
After receiving a primary education at a local mission
school, Nelson Mandela was sent to Healdtown, a Wesleyan
secondary school of some repute where he matriculated.
He then enrolled at the University College of Fort Hare
for the Bachelor of Arts Degree where he was elected
onto the Student's Representative Council. He was
suspended from college for joining in a protest boycott.
He went to Johannesburg where he completed his BA by
correspondence, took articles of clerkship and commenced
study for his LLB. He entered politics in earnest while
studying in Johannesburg by joining the African National
Congress in 1942. For being part in a defiance campaign,
Mandela was convicted of contravening the Suppression of
Communism Act and given a suspended prison sentence. He
was also prohibited from attending gatherings and
confined to Johannesburg for six months.
During this period of restrictions, Mandela wrote the
attorneys admission examination and was admitted to the
profession. He opened a practice in Johannesburg, in
partnership with Oliver Tambo. In recognition of his
outstanding contribution during the Defiance Campaign
Mandela had been elected to the presidency of both the
Youth League and the Transvaal region of the ANC at the
end of 1952, he thus became a deputy president of the
He clashed with Luthuli as a young firebrand over the
use of force in the ANC's struggle. As the chief was
leaving for Oslo, the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe
(Spear of the Nation), was born with Mandela as its
first commander-in-chief. In 1962, Mandela left the
country unlawfully and travelled abroad for several
months. Not long after his return to South Africa he was
arrested and charged with illegal exit from the country,
and incitement to strike.
Mandela was convicted and sentenced to five years
imprisonment. While serving his sentence he was charged,
in the Rivonia Trial, with sabotage. Mandela s
statements in court during these trials are classics in
the history of the resistance to apartheid, and they
have been an inspiration to all who have opposed it. His
statement from the dock in the Rivonia Trial ends with
"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."
From then on he became
a symbol of rebellion who inspired millions.
In the 27 years of imprisonment on Robben Island that
followed, he lived up to his Xhosa name, Rolihlahla,
which means "the twig that bends but does not break".
His stature become iconic as a Mandela persona was
developed by the liberation movement to replace the
absent person in the hearts and minds of his followers.
His words came to mean more than just a call for the end
of racism; they spoke of higher ideals and our common
After his release in February 1990, the freedom fighter
rapidly morphed into the negotiator and, in 1994, the
trajectory of his natural-born leadership took him to
the top - this time as South Africa's first black
He was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993
with the outgoing President F W de Klerk.
Mandela is the "Black Pimpernel" whose long walk to
freedom took him to visit, for a cup of tea and
reconciliation, Verwoerd's widow, Betsie, in the
Afrikaner volkstaat of Orania - an experiment in
monoracialism he as head of the new South Africa allowed
to happen. On his inauguration speech as State President
"Today we are
entering a new era for our country and its
people. Today we celebrate not the victory
of a party, but a victory for all the people
of South Africa."
The boxer, the lawyer,
the president, the benevolent grandfather, the courtly
lover - these are images our world seems unable to get
casting the first vote in
South Africa's first multiracial election.