South Africa Celebrates the Life of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is one of South Africa's biggest heroes and each year we celebrate his life and victory


Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in the small village of Mvezo in the district of Umtata, the capital of Transkei.

This day is celebrated by millions and we have a complete overview of the events lined up to celebrate the birth of this international icon. Overview Mandela Birthday Celebrations

Mandela’s middle name, Rolihlahla, means “to pull a branch off a tree” or more colloquially “troublemaker.” Mandela was born into royalty as his great grandfather was Ngubebgcuka (died in 1832) the Inkosi Enkhulu – King of the Thembu people.

Today he is know nationally and internationally as Madiba, an honorary title adopted by elders of Mandela’s clan.

He was the first member of his family to go to school, and he went on to study law through the University of South Africa, whilst working as an article clerk for his friend’s (Walter Sisulu) law firm.

After this he studied further at the University of Witwatersrand and in 1955 Mandela and OR Tambo started their own law firm providing free or low cost legal counsel to many black people who would otherwise have been without representation.

Committed to non-violent mass struggle (influenced by Gandhi) Mandela was arrested with 150 others in December 1956 and charged with treason. All were acquitted.

In 1961 Mandela became the leader of the ANC’s armed wing, ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe’ (translated as Spear of the Nation) which he co-founded. He coordinated a sabotage campaign against military and government targets, and made plans for a possible guerrilla war if sabotage failed to end apartheid.

In June 1964 he was arrested once again, sentenced to life imprisonment, for his involvement in fighting the brutality of the apartheid regime, narrowly escaping the death penalty.

He was taken to Robben Island – a maximum security facility on a small island off the cost of Cape Town. In April 1984, he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town and later in 1988 he was moved to the Victor Verster Prison near Paarl from where he was eventually released.

Whilst in prison, Mandela studied with the University of London, by correspondence through its external programme and received the degree of Bachelor of Laws. He was subsequently nominated for the position of Chancellor of the University of London in the 81 election, but lost to Princess Anne.

Nelson Mandela was released from the house next to Victor Verster prison, - the house where he did all the negotiations with the South African government, which is now called Mandela House on 11 February 1990 after President FW De Klerk removed the ban on the ANC and other anti-apartheid organisations.

Not only was he the first black president of South Africa after many years of imprisonment because of his fight against Apartheid, but Nelson Mandela also won one of the most recognised awards internationally, The Nobel Peace Prize, and ensured free and fair democratic elections for South Africa. He went on to become one of the world’s most famous people.

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

-Nelson Mandela during his Rivonia Trial Speech

Read more on Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday and work up a sweat at the Mandela walk and jog

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