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:
From then on he became
a symbol of rebellion who inspired millions.
The boxer, the lawyer, the president, the benevolent grandfather, the courtly lover - these are images our world seems unable to get enough of.