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Nelson Mandela [Part 1 of 3]: Major Life Highlights and Family Life

Nelson Mandela [Part 1 of 3]: Major Life Highlights and Family Life

South Africa

The trajectory of Mandela’s life drives us through difficulties and persistence, strife and sacrifice in a life that spanned 5 years short of a century. (between 1918 – 2013.)

Mandela lived for 95 years, three years on, his legacy is still actively celebrated at home in South Africa, on the African continent and across the world. The United Nations have assigned July 18 each year as International Nelson Mandela Day.

‘Nelson’ apparently was not part of his original name. His name at birth was ‘‘Rolihlahla Mandela’‘ born 18 July 1918.

  • Mandela was born into the Madiba clan
  • He was born in the village of Mvezo, Transkei
  • His mother was Nonqaphi Nosekeni
  • His father was Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, principal counselor to the Acting King of the Thembu people, Jongintaba Dalindyebo.
  • His father died in 1930, when Mandela was 12-years old. The King his father served took charge of his upkeep.

Long before the heated days of armed apartheid activism, Mandela’s had been expelled from Fort Hare University for joining student protests. He ‘expelled’ himself from home and travelled to Johannesburg in 1941 after a threat from the king that wives would be arranged for him lest he goes back to complete his education at Fort Hare.

But preceding Fort Hare, Mandela attended primary school in Qunu, it was there that his teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave him the name Nelson, in accordance with the custom of giving all schoolchildren “Christian” names.

He completed his Junior Certificate at Clarkebury Boarding Institute and went on to Healdtown, a Wesleyan secondary school of some repute, where he matriculated.

Madiba took the job of mine security office in Johannesburg after his self imposed exile from the palace. It was through the security job that he met Walter Sisulu, a key player in the apartheid struggle. He completed his suspended Bachelor of Arts degree via the University of South Africa and went to Fort Hare for graduation in 1943

He started an LLB at University of Witwatersrand, but dropped out due to poverty in 1952. After a two-year diploma in law on top of his BA, he was allowed to practise law, and in August 1952 he and Oliver Tambo established South Africa’s first black law firm, Mandela & Tambo.

A decade later, Madiba used University of London in 1962 to study but didn’t complete his course. Over two decades later (1989) The then 71-year-old whiles in his last month of prison, graduated from University of South Africa, Cape Town but he was absent from the graduation.

Family Life

In 1944 aged 26, he married Walter Sisulu’s cousin, Evelyn Mase, a nurse. They had four children, two sons, Madiba Thembekile “Thembi” and Makgatho, and two daughters both called Makaziwe, the first of whom died in infancy. He and his wife divorced in 1958.

During one of his trials, Mandela married a social worker, Winnie Madikizela, on 14 June 1958. They had two daughters, Zenani and Zindziswa. The couple divorced in 1996.

On his 80 birthday in 1998 he married Graca Machel, his third wife. Till date, Mandela’s children and grand children even great grandchildren make the news in South Africa and beyond thanks to the stature of the global figure around which they converge.

Post prison and the dawn of democracy

Mandela after years of incarceration was finally released from prison in 1990 after turning down three instances of conditional release during his years behind bars.

In 1993, he was awarded joint Nobel Peace prize with FW de Klerk. He participated in the rainbow nation’s first ever democratically elected polls. He was elected president on the ticket of the Africa National Congress (ANC)

Mandela voluntarily stepped down in 1999 after a term in office. He however continued to work with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund he set up in 1995 and established the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation.

Died on December 5, 2013 at his home in Johannesburg after a series of illnesses. A global funeral was to follow.

In the next episode of this four-part series, we take a look at Mandela’s activism, prison life and the anti apartheid struggle.