CHILDHOOD AND EDUCATION
18 July 1918: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is born near Umtata (in the Transkei) as the son of Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Henry Mgadla Mandela, a chief and chief councillor to the paramount chief of the Thembu and a member of the Madiba clan.
1927: Mandela’s father dies. His guardian is Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the acting chief of the Thembu tribe.
1938: Mandela matriculates at Healdtown Methodist Boarding School as part of a very small number of black pupils who matriculated in the country.
1939: While studying for a BA degree at Fort Hare Mandela becomes involved in a boycott against the university’s policies and is forced to leave. He goes back home where an arranged marriage is planned and flees to Johannesburg.
1942: After completing a Bachelor of Arts degree at Unisa, he begins studying for an LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand. He does not complete this degree and starts studying again through the University of London after his imprisonment in 1962 but also does not complete that degree.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, fondly referred to as Madiba, became a legend in his lifetime. In a worldwide survey done some years ago in which photos of famous people in the world had to be named, Nelson’s photo was, by far, the most recognised, more so than photos of any other world leader or icon. He was considered to be one of the world’s greatest leaders despite having been incarcerated for 27 years on Robben Island on charges of treason before being freed. His prison number, 46664, is known throughout the world and serves as a symbol and a reminder of a great man who unified South Africa. But who exactly was he?
1943: Mandela becomes a member of the African National Congress (ANC).
1944: He helps form the ANC Youth League with Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu. He marries Evelyn Mase, Sisulu’s cousin. They have 4 children – one of whom dies as an infant.
1948: The National Party comes to power in South Africa and implements apartheid.
1952: Mandela leads the Defiance Campaign, encouraging people to break racial separation laws. He is convicted under Suppression of Communism Act and is banned from attending gatherings and leaving Johannesburg. With Tambo, he forms the first black law partnership in South Africa. While providing free or cheap legal aid to blacks, Mandela is actively involved in the ANC’s defiance campaign.
1955: Freedom Charter calling for equal rights is adopted at the Congress of the People.
1956: Mandela is one of 156 South Africans charged with treason for their support of the Freedom Charter calling for a non-racial democracy and a socialist-based economy.
All are acquitted in 1961.
1958: Mandela marries social worker Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela after divorcing Eveyln in 1957.
1960: 69 protesters are killed by police in Sharpeville. A state of emergency is declared, and the ANC is outlawed.
1961: Helps establish Umkhonto we Sizwe – “Spear of the Nation.”
16 August 1962: He is sentenced to five years’ hard labour after being charged with illegally leaving the country and incitement to strike. He goes on the run. The government declares Winnie Mandela a banned person and restricts her to Soweto.
MADIBA THROUGH ZELDA'S EYES
Zelda la Grange was Nelson Mandela’s assistant and honorary “white granddaughter” for 16 years, during his presidency and when he retired. She organised his working week and travelled extensively with him on foreign tours and only left him when he retired from public life.
Zelda’s name became Zeldina after a state visit to Russia after Mandela learned that President Boris Yeltsin’s wife’s name was Yeltsina. After that 1999 visit, the name Zeldina stuck.
Mandela knew what he wanted. He could be tough, on himself too, and was very straightforward. “You knew what was expected of you and, as long as you were doing that, it was very easy to work for him,” she said.
While he was president he would sometimes phone Zelda at 2am and think nothing of it. Mandela worked exceptionally hard and expected the same from those around him.
Afrikaans became their secret weapon overseas when he didn’t want people to know what he was saying. He had learnt to speak Afrikaans on Robben Island.
His favourite people included the then Presidents Bill Clinton, Nicolas Sarkozy, Jacques Chirac, Prime Ministers John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He was also failingly polite to people like Margaret Thatcher, even though she had referred to the ANC as a terrorist organisation.
He saw the humour in a number if situations, telling Gordon Brown “we’re very happy to see prime minister Brown and we’re here to remind [the British] that although they colonised us, we have now taken over.” That was his sense of humour. He also enjoyed some light-hearted moments with Queen Elizabeth.
Zelda had this to say about Mandela’s penchant for celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, Michael Jackson and the Spice Girls. “I think he was amused and entertained by their fame; he was almost curious in a way, he wanted to see for himself why people were famous. It intrigued him. Naomi was like a granddaughter to him. The fact she offered her celebrity status to support his charitable work was very important and special to him.”
12 June 1964: Mandela, now 46, is one of eight people found guilty of sabotage after police seized ANC documents that outlined a planned guerrilla campaign. Mandela is sentenced to life imprisonment. He is taken to Robben Island.
1968: Mandela loses his eldest son in a car crash and his mother also dies. He is not permitted to attend either funeral.
16 June 1976: Police fire on a protest in Soweto against an edict requiring blacks to be taught in Afrikaans. Violence erupts across South Africa, leaving hundreds dead. The Soweto Uprising is the start of the anti-apartheid movement.
1985: South African President P.W. Botha offers to release Mandela if he will renounce violence. In a fiery statement read at a rally by his daughter Zindzi, Mandela says the burden falls on the government to dismantle apartheid and grant full rights to blacks.
1989: F.W. de Klerk becomes president and spearheads a series of reforms. He releases Sisulu and four other of Mandela’s co-defendants. Leading anti-apartheid groups accuse Winnie Mandela of complicity in the abduction and assault of a 14-year-old black activist.
While in the last months of his imprisonment, Mandela obtains his LLB degree through the University of South Africa. He graduates in absentia at a ceremony in Cape Town.
THE MADIBA SHIRT
The Madiba shirt was designed by Desré Buirski and first worn by Mandela at the dress rehearsal of the opening of South Africa’s first democratic Parliament in May 1994. Mandela wore this style of shirt many times. A Madiba shirt is a batik silk shirt, usually adorned in a bright and colourful print.
MAKE EVERYDAY MANDELA DAY
Mandela Day is celebrated on 18 July and is a worldwide initiative to make the world a better place. It is hoped that this initiative will encourage people to make every day a Mandela Day
Mandela Day is about changing the world for the better through positive change in your own life and in your community. Take action against poverty. Mandela said, “It is in your hands to make of our world a better one for all.” Become part of the global movement for good. Become involved this Mandela Day.
Nelson Mandela fathered six children with three wives and had 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren at the time of his death.
Mandela had four children—two sons and two daughters—with his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, who he married in October 1944. The couple’s first child was Madiba “Thembi” Thembekile,born in 1945. Then, in 1948 Makaziwe Mandela was born. Maki, as she was called, died at nine months of age. In 1950, Makgatho Mandela,a son, and in 1954, their second daughter was born. She was named Makaziwe Mandela in honour of their first baby girl.
Three of Mandela’s six children are still living. Makaziwe is the only surviving child from his first marriage. (Madiba Thembekile died in 1969, and Makgatho died in 2005.)
After his divorce from Evelyn, Mandela married Winnie Madikizela and they had two daughters: Zenani, or Zeni, in 1959 and Zindziswa (Zindizi) in 1960.
DID YOU KNOW?
• Streets all over the world are named after Mandela. That’s a given. But did you know a prehistoric woodpecker was named after him? Scientists named the find Australopicus nelsonmandelai. In 1973, the physics institute at Leeds University also named a nuclear particle the ‘Mandela particle.’
• Mandela had a cameo role in Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic Malcolm X. He played a teacher reciting Malcolm X’s famous speech to a room full of Soweto school kids. He refused to say the words “by any means necessary” so Lee cut back to footage of Malcolm X to close out the film.