Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela: The Father of South Africa (Part 1)


Mandela in his youthNelson Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and political leader who fought for the emancipation of blacks in South Africa. His struggle earned him a place in the book of famous people. Mandela is today recognized as the destroyer of Apartheid and father of modern South Africa.

Blacks in South Africa were under subjugation and severe oppression from the minority white population. He served a jail term that lasted for about 27 years for his fight against apartheid and after his release from prison won an election as the first black president of South Africa.

Despite the pains and struggles he went through he endeavored to unify all South Africans and worked towards dismantling the legacy of apartheid and racism.

Birth and Early life

Nelson Rolihlahla Madiba Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in Mvezo, South Africa to Gadla Henry Mandela. His father was a local chief and councilor to the monarch of his clan who died when he was 9 years old. His mother was the third wife of his father.

Rolihlahla in his clans local parlance means ‘Troublemaker’ and he indeed, did trouble the white colonialist that took control of governance in South Africa. The name ‘Nelson’ was given to him by his teacher in school which was customary then as a standard set by the British.

Education and Early Activism

After the death of his father, he was adopted by the Regent (Advisor) of the Tembu people , Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo. He relinquished claims to the chieftainship title of his clan in order to become a lawyer. Mandela started his college education in 1933 first at the Clarkebury Methodist High School Engcobo for his junior Certificate and was an active student. Then in 1937 he moved to the Methodist College, which was a school most Thembu royalty attended. While in school he was a long distance runner and was also appointed as a prefect.

After his college education he got admission to the University of Fort Hare, an elite black institution for his BA degree. Here he studied English, Politics, Native Administration and Roman Dutch Law with the intent to become an interpreter or clerk in the Native Affairs Department.

It was here that he met his lifelong friend and fellow revolutionist Oliver Tambo.

In conformity with his name Rolihlahla he was involved in the Students’ Representative Council boycott against the quality of food given to them. This led to his suspension from the university; he never returned to finish his degree.

Life in Johannesburg

After his return to his hometown due to  his suspension from school he discovered his guardian Chief Jongintaba had arranged a wife for him. In order not to be persuaded by his guardian  he fled to Johannesburg in April 1941.He signed up to a University of South Africa correspondence course while he worked as a clerk at a law firm in Johannesburg.

It was in Johannesburg that he first came in contact with and attended communist gatherings which had a Europeans, Africans, Indians and other races as members.

He sat and passed his BA exams in 1943 and then began his pursuit and career as a lawyer.

Mandela Becomes an Active Revolutionist

Mandela proceeded to the University of the Witwatersrand in 1943 and was the only black African student and encountered racism. He joined and became an active member of the African National Congress (ANC) where he met and was influenced by Sisulu.

Mandela was more inclined to an entirely all black struggle for political emancipation and discouraged involvment of other races in their struggle for emancipation . He was instrumental in the creation of the African Congress Youth League (ANCYL) which was founded on Easter Sunday 1944. He served as a member of its executive committee while Anton Lembede was President of the group.

Mandela married Evelyn Mase a trainee nurse he met in Sisulu’s house and they got married in October 1944; they had their first child Madiba ThembeKile in February 1945.

After the death of Lembede in 1947, Peter Mda took over as President while Mandela became the secretary of the ANCYL.

The ANCYL was essentially formed to mobilize youths to oppose the subjugation against blacks in South Africa.

Meanwhile during elections in 1948, only whites were allowed to vote, further exacerbating the racial segregation of the apartheid regime. This prompted the ANC to advocate and initiate actions against apartheid using boycotts and strikes. Though there were contentions within the group against being aggressive, Mandela with other militant minded revolutionist like Sisulu, Mda, Tambo ensured and steered the group to a revolutionary path.

Involvement in the ANC

Nelson Mandela Due to his involvement in politics and the ANC, Mandela failed his final year at Witwatersrand three times and was thus denied his degree in December 1949.

By 1950 Mandela was elected national president of the ANCY and was elevated to the position of national executive of the ANC same year.

He participated at protests and made presentations at these rallies and soon established himself as one of the best-known black political figures in South Africa.

Mandela’s increasing vocal opposition to the government earned him arrest from the police. This led to a six month ban on him making public speeches, attending meetings or talking to more than one person at a time.

In August 1953, he opened his own law firm with his friend Tambo in downtown Johannesburg; the only black law firm in the country at that time. The had as clients blacks who had gone through police brutality and this soon brought him into conflict-path with the authorities. Pressure and constant interference from the authorities forced them to move to a remote locality.

His life as a politician and activist however created enormous problems for him at home; his marriage to Evelyn became turbulent. She accused him of adultery and left him in 1956, this was in addition to his constant absence from home due to his political inclinations. She went further in January 1958 to file for divorce which was finalized in March same year. Mandela later married Winnie Madikizela and together they had two children.

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