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Nelson Mandela- An inspiration to the civil rights activists worldwide

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Two years ago today, an anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist  who served as the first black president of South Africa passed away. His government played a significant role in dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalized racism and fostering racial reconciliation. He was an indefatigable citizen who worked tirelessly to make his country a better place. During his life, he faced a lot of challenges including imprisonment. For 20 years he directed a campaign of peaceful, nonviolent defiance against the South African government and its racist policies.

He is a legacy who deserved to be remembered and we should all learn a thing or two from his struggles. For those who want an overview of his life, hope this blog piece suits your interest.

Please note that most of them are directly quoted from the website


Born as : Rolihlahla Mandela

Date of Birth: 18th July 1918

Place of Birth: Mvezo, on the banks of the Mbashe River in Transkei, South Africa.

Fathers name: Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela

Served as the Principal counselor to the Acting King of Thembu people tribal chiefs for several years, but lost both his title and fortune over a dispute with the local colonial magistrate.

His father’s loss of status forced his mother to move his family to Qunu, a much smaller village.

Mother’s name: Nonqaphi Nosekeni

One website quotes that his father passed away when Nelson was 9 years old while the others say that he was 12.

When he was adopted, he left Qunu and started his life in the royal residence of Thembuland.

Adopted by: Chief Jongintabo Daylindyebo, who was the acting regent of Thembu.


Early Education

Mandela took classes in a one-room school next to the palace, studying English, Xhosa, history and geography. It was during this period that Mandela developed an interest in African history, from elder chiefs who came to the Great Palace on official business. He learned how the African people had lived in relative peace until the coming of the white people. According to the elders, the children of South Africa had previously lived as brothers, but white men had shattered this fellowship. While black men shared their land, air and water with whites, white men took all of these things for themselves.


Age 16

He entered manhood by the traditional African ritual.

Mandela attended a Wesleyan mission school, the Clarkebury Boarding Institute and Wesleyan College,

Apart from academics, he also excelled at track and boxing.

Around the age of 21 (in 1939)

  • Enrolled at the University College of Fort Hare, the only residential center of higher learning for blacks in South Africa at the time.
  • Fort Hare was considered Africa’s equivalent of the University of Oxford or Harvard University.
  • Oliver Tambo is a brilliant friend he made during this time, who later partnered with him in starting a law firm.

1st year at college: He focused on Roman Dutch Law to prepare for a career in civil service as an interpreter or a clerk. (best profession a black man could attain at that time)

2nd year at college: elected as Student Representative Council (SRC)

He could not complete his degree as he was expelled for joining in a student protest.


Arranged a marriage

Within the right of Regent Jongintaba, as the custom dictated his guardian (Jongintaba) arranged a marriage for Nelson Mandela.

Ran away

He was shocked by the news of marriage and felt trapped.

He settled in Johansenburg and attended jobs as clerks and guards. He also completed his bachelor’s degree via correspondence courses. He then enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg to study law.

Around the age of 24 (1942)

Mandela joined the African National Congress and became actively engaged in the anti-apartheid movement.

Within the congress a small group of young Africans banded together forming African National Youth League. ( something like our little NGOs)


For 20 years, Mandela directed peaceful, nonviolent acts of defiance against the South African government and its racist policies, including the

1952: Defiance Campaign

1955: Congress of the people

Founded a law firm (Mandela and Tambo law firm). The law firm provided free and low-cost legal counsel to unrepresented blacks.

At around 37 years of age (1956) Mandela and 150 others were arrested and charged with treason for their political advocacy.

In 1961, Mandela, who was formerly committed to nonviolent protest, began to believe that armed struggle was the only way to achieve change. He subsequently co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe, also known as MK, an armed offshoot of the ANC dedicated to sabotage and guerilla war tactics to end apartheid. In 1961, Mandela orchestrated a three-day national workers’ strike. He was arrested for leading the strike the following year, and was sentenced to five years in prison. In 1963, Mandela was brought to trial again. This time, he and 10 other ANC leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment for political offenses, including sabotage.

winner is a dreamer


Incarcerated in Robben island for 18 of his 27 years of prison.

  • Contracted TB
  • As a black political prisoner, received the lowest level of treatment from prison workers.
  • Earned a Bachelor of Law degree through a University of London correspondence program.

At 63 years

In 1982, Mandela and other ANC leaders were moved to Pollsmoor Prison, allegedly to enable contact between them and the South African government.


At 66 years

In 1985, President P.W. Botha offered Mandela’s release in exchange for renouncing armed struggle; the prisoner flatly rejected the offer.


At 71 years

11th February 1990

  • President P.W. Botha suffered a stroke and was replaced by Frederik Wilem de Klerk.
  • De Klerk unbanned the ANC
  • Restrictions on political groups were removed
  • Suspended executions

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In 1991

  • Mandela was elected as president of the African National Congress,
  • His lifelong friend and colleague Oliver Tambo was elected as national chairperson.


In 1993

Mandela and President de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work toward dismantling apartheid.


27th April 1994

First democratic elections in South Africa.


10th May 1994

  • Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first black president in South Africa.
  • He published an autobiography “Long Walk to freedom” which he secretly wrote while he was in prison.
  • From 1994 until June 1999, Mandela worked to bring about the transition from minority rule and apartheid to black majority rule. He used the nation’s enthusiasm for sports as a pivot point to promote reconciliation between whites and blacks, encouraging black South Africans to support the once-hated national rugby team. In 1995, South Africa came to the world stage by hosting the Rugby World Cup, which brought further recognition and prestige to the young republic.
  • Mandela also worked to protect South Africa’s economy from collapse during his presidency. Through his Reconstruction and Development Plan, the South African government funded the creation of jobs, housing and basic health care. In 1996, Mandela signed into law a new constitution for the nation, establishing a strong central government based on majority rule, and guaranteeing both the rights of minorities and the freedom of expression.


Awarded the Order of Merit


Although he retired from active politics he maintained a busy schedule by continuing to serve his country:

  • Raised money to build schools and clinics in the South Africa’s rural heartland
  • Served as a mediator in Burundi’s civil war.
  • Published a number of books about his life and struggles.


His books:

  • No Easy Walk to Freedom
  • The Struggle is my Life;
  • Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales.

In 2001

Diagnosed with prostate cancer.

In June 2004, at the age of 85,

He announced his formal retirement from public life and returned to his native village of Qunu.


18th July 2009

It was declared as Mandela Day, an international day to promote global peace and celebrate the South African leader’s legacy.

Last Public Appearance at the final match on World Cup 2010 in South Africa.



5th December 2013, age 95

This remarkable citizen who advocated for peace and equality on both a national and global scale, passed away in Johannesburg, South Africa

A statement on the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory’s website reads: “Mr. Mandela gave 67 years of his life fighting for the rights of humanity. All we are asking is that everyone gives 67 minutes of their time, whether it’s supporting your chosen charity or serving your local community.”




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