Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
18 July 1918 - 5 December 2013

Nelson MandelaNelson 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 ANC itself.

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 these words:
"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 humanity.

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 president.

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 he said:

"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 enough of.

Nelson Mandela casting the first vote in
South Africa's first multiracial election.

Nelson Mandela passed away on Thursday, 5 December 2013. He was 95. Grieving South Africans, some in their pyjamas, poured into the streets on Friday morning after his death was announced. South African flags flew at half-mast. The Eiffel Tower was lit up in the colours of the South African flag to grieve over Nelson Mandela's death.

Former president FW De Klerk was quoted as saying: The greatest lesson he taught me was to be honest and open... to look your opponent in the eye and try and find common cause...

"Rest in Peace Madiba. You will be missed, but your impact on this world will live forever."  - actress Charlize Theron

"God, thank you for the gift of Madiba." - Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu

Copyright January 2007