Nelson Mandela: An African Hero

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela: An African Hero

Nelson Mandela was born on July 18th, 1918, in the village of Mvezo, in Transkei, South Africa. His given birth name was Rolihlahla, which means ‘troublemaker’ in the Xhosa language. He was also called by his clan name: ‘Madiba’ as a sign of respect and affection.

At the time of his death on December 12th, 2013 at the age of 95, Nelson had already worked as a lawyer, an activist, a politician and a Head of State in his active life. Above all, he is well known for having spent 27 years in prison for his fight against apartheid in South Africa. The role he played during this era would later on earn him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, which he shared with the South African president of the time, F.W. de Klerk.

Tragedy characterized Nelson’s childhood. His father died in 1930 when the future Nobel laureate was only 12. Fortunately, he was able to have access to good education as 1939 saw him at Fort Harare, a prestigious South African university.

It was in 1944 that his career in politics began when he joined the African National Congress (ANC). He also met his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Madise, during the same year. Unfortunately, he divorced her in 1957. He would marry his second wife, Winnie Madikizela, in 1958, whom he also divorced in 1996. All in all, Nelson fathered six children during these marriages: four with Evelyn and two with Winnie.

The turmoil that had characterized South African apartheid politics in the late 40s and throughout the 50s culminated in a deadly massacre that claimed the lives of 69 peaceful protesters in Sharpeville in 1960. The ANC and the Pan African Congress (PAC) were subsequently banned. A year later, the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was launched with Mandela at its helm.

Nelson’s political life took a big turn in 1962 when he was arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment for leaving the country illegally and for inciting a workers’ strike. However, the worst was yet to come. In 1964, Mandela was slapped with a life term at the end of the Rivonia Trial in which he was charged with treason alongside ten other accused individuals.  He would only walk as a free man in 1990 at the age of 72.

Prison life proved to be hard for Nelson and his family. For example, when his mother and son died, he could not even attend their funerals. Despite this harsh fact, Nelson never gave up his hope of a better South Africa. He continued his fight against racial injustice throughout his incarceration.

After his release, he was elected as the president of the ANC in 1991. Mandela served as the first black president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. During his presidential term, he also met Graca Machel, the widowed wife of Mozambican president, Samora Machel. She became his third wife when he married her in 1998.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela died of lung cancer. He is fondly remembered by the whole world for his ideals for freedom, truth and justice.

Worksheets for downloading available here.