The man vs. the myth
Nelson Mandela was born “Rolihlahla Mandela” on July 18th 1918. His given name Rolihlahla, means ‘to pull a branch of a tree’, or literally, ‘troublemaker’. Rolihlahla became the first member of his family to attend school. His teacher gave him the English name ‘Nelson’. He attended a Wesleyan mission school. (Methodist) He was a bright young man, completing his junior certificate in two years rather than three. At 16 he underwent the traditional Thembu boys’ initiation. In 1937 he moved to Healdtown to attend the Wesleyan college at Fort Beaufort. Nelson Mandela came from Thembu royal blood, so this had been expected. The founder of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) Robert Sobukwe, also attended this school (1924 - 1978).
It was in Fort Beaufort where Nelson Mandela discovered his interest in boxing.
Early in his life he met people who would shape him and South Africa’s future. (Oliver Tambo - Walter Sisulu - Joe Slovo - Harry Schwarz - Ruth First) He was told to leave Fort Hare University, after involvement in student boycotts. He began to study Bachelor of Laws from the University of London External Program. He moved to Johannesburg and found work as a guard at a mine and later served as an articled clerk at a law firm. He completed his B.A. degree at the University of South Africa through correspondence, after which he began law studies at the University of Witwatersrand.
During the early 1950’s, he and Oliver Tambo operated the law firm of ‘Mandela and Tambo’. Their firm provided free or low cost legal counsel to many black people.
In December 1956, Nelson Mandela and 150 others were arrested for treason. A marathon trial ensued (1956-1961), which resulted with 150 acquittals. In this image he and other accused are seen singing. (1956)
Sixty nine black protesters were killed by police in 1969, in what became known as the Sharpeville massacre. This act enraged Nelson Mandela and the people.
The protests were against laws requiring black people to carry passes at all times. This was a turning point for Nelson Mandela and South Africa regarding the ANC’s continual call for non-violent resistance. In 1961 Umkhonto we Sizwe was formed (Spear of the Nation - abbreviated MK), with Nelson Mandela as commander in chief. This photograph above shows Nelson Mandela as a free man with is passbook. As the political situation worsened, Mandela fled into exile.
Nelson Mandela returned from exile in August of 1962 and was arrested. His arrest was facilitated by a CIA tip to agents of the apartheid regime, as per his whereabouts and disguise. He was charged and sentenced to 5 years prison with hard labour, guilty of leading a strike and for having travelled without a government issued passport.
While in prison, he stood trail for conspiracy, sabotage and treason with fellow ANC leaders. The event became now as the Rivonia Trial. On June 12th 1964, Nelson Mandela and 7 accused escaped the gallows, but were sentenced to life in prison. The accused are shown above with Nelson Mandela at the top of the group of pictures. Click here to read Nelson Mandela’s full Rivonia Trial dock statement, when he addressed the court April 20th 1964. He clarified why the ANC chose to use violence as a tactic.
The convicted were transferred to Robben Island Prison near Cape Town - June 16th 1964.
Nelson Mandela’s reputation grew the world over while in jail. He became the most significant black leader in South Africa. Photographs of him were banded. These two were taken by a fellow prisoner and smuggled out. The above photograph shows him repairing his prison cloths in 1966 at Robben Island.
This photograph shows Nelson Mandela speaking to Walter Sisulu in the prison courtyard. Nelson Mandela was ‘kept busy’ performing hard labour in a mine quarry. He ‘kept himself busy’ studying law through continued correspondence with the University of London through the external program and received a degree of Bachelor of Laws. He remained at Robben Island for 18 of his 27 years spent in prison.
Nelson Mandela’s Cell on Robben Island (refurbished). In 1969 a plot was laid by South African intelligence unit B.O.S.S. to rescue Nelson Mandela from prison. The idea was the SAPS would kill him while attempting his recapture. This plot was foiled by British Intelligence and later confirmed by one of the chief perpetrators in his book Inside BOSS.
The Soweto Uprising of 1976 sparked world-wide outrage. Students dared to protest the Afrikaans language as a medium for instruction in their schools.
Hector Pieterson was gunned down a killed by South African Police on June 16, 1976, together with other students. Photographs of his death sparked worldwide outrange, which set the stage for 18 years of struggle. The international community condemned the States actions and eventually applied crippling economic sanctions against it.
A reinvigorated guerrilla war intensified, aimed at sabotaging government targets. Pass offices, native magistrate’s courts, police stations, post offices, banks, government offices and the army were hit.
Robben Island had become known as ‘Mandela University’, because he encouraged others to study. The SA Government was concerned about young imprisoned activists being influenced by ANC leaders. Nelson Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in March 1982, together with ANC leaders Walter Sisulu, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Raymond Mhlaba.
South African Police used sjamboks on demonstrators in Athlone Cape Town. (1985). These protestors had been demanding Nelson Mandela’s release.
In 1988 Nelson Mandela was transferred from Pollsmoor to Victor Verster Prison near Franschhoek. The move was the first inkling of reconciliation. Here the government began to treat him as the leader of the ANC, while it got used to the idea he was the leader of a government in waiting.
His cell became a private home with a swimming pool, complete with white servants. In this picture Nelson Mandela chats with his former chef Jack Swart outside the house he spent the last years of imprisonment.
On the 11th of February 1990, Nelson Mandela was unconditionally released from prison by President F. W. de Klerk. De Klerk had already reversed the ban on the ANC and other anti-apartheid organizations.
In 1992 Nelson Mandela’s marriage to Winnie ended with separation. In 1996 they were divorced. She changed her name to Ms.Winnie Madikizela Mandela.
While branded a terrorist by the US Government, Nelson Mandela was allowed to speak in New York at the United Nations General Assembly. (1990) It would be another 18 years before the United States finally removed Nelson Mandela and ANC party members from their designated terrorist list in 2008.
Mandela returned to the leadership as President of the ANC. Between 1990 and 1994 he led multi-party negotiations, which gave way to one man - one vote elections. For their efforts at engagement, he and FW de Klerk shared the 1993 Noble Peace Prize.
In 1999 Nelson Mandela relinquished power - wishing to work with and help fellow South Africans.
Though retired - Nelson Mandela stayed active into the Millennium. In 2003 he spoke at the International Woman’s Day Forum. CNN reported: - Thursday, January 30, 2003 Former South African president Nelson Mandela has slammed the U.S. stance on Iraq, saying that “one power with a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust.” - Receiving applause for his comments, Mandela said Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are “undermining” past work of the United Nations. “They do not care. Is it because the secretary-general of the United Nations is now a black man?” said Mandela, referring to Kofi Annan, who is from Ghana.
Nelson Mandela became deeply involved in the fight against AIDS. He launched a series of international charity concerts using his prison number 46664 to promote them. He had been the 466th prisoner to arrive at Robben Island that year. The number was combined with year 64 as a prison number. Today 46664.com is the web address for his Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Nelson Mandela’s son Thembekile died while imprisoned on Robben Island in 1969. His surviving son Makgatho Lewanika, died of the AIDS virus in 2005.