Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (born July 18, 1918) is a former President of South Africa, and was one of its chief anti-apartheid activists. He spent his childhood in the Tembu chiefdom before embarking on a career in law.

Portrait from 1994 election poster

Table of contents
1 Early life
2 Political activity
3 Awards
4 References
5 External Links

Early life

Rolihlala Mandela was born in Qunu in the Transkei. At the age of seven, he became the first member of his family to attend school, where he was given the English name "Nelson" by a Methodist teacher. His father died soon afterward, and Nelson attended a Wesleyan mission school next door to the palace of the Regent. Following Xhosa custom he was initiated at age 16, and attended Clarkebury Boarding Institute, learning about Western culture. He completed his Junior Certificate in two years, instead of the usual three.

At age 19, in 1934, Mandela moved to the Wesleyan College in Fort Beaufort, which most Thembu royalty attended, and took an interest in boxing and running. After matriculating, he began a BA degree at Fort Hare University, where he met Oliver Tambo, who became a lifelong friend and colleague.

At the end of his first year he became involved in a boycott of the Students' Representative Council against the university policies, and was asked to leave Fort Hare. He left to go to Johannesburg, where he completed his degree with the University of South Africa (UNISA) via correspondence, then began a Law degree at Wits University.

Political activity

As a young law student, Mandela became involved in political opposition to the white minority regime's denial of political, social and economic rights to South Africa's black majority. Joining the African National Congress in 1942, he founded its more dynamic Youth League two years later together with Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and others.

After the 1948 election victory of the Afrikaner-dominated National Party with its apartheid policy of racial segregation, Mandela was prominent in the ANC's 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1955 Congress of the People, whose adoption of the Freedom Charter provided the fundamental programme of the anti-apartheid cause.

Initially committed to non-violent mass struggle and acquitted in the marathon Treason Trial of 1956-1961, Mandela and his colleagues accepted the case for armed action after the shooting of unarmed protesters at Sharpeville in March 1960 and the subsequent banning of the ANC and other anti-apartheid groups.

In 1961 he became the commander of the ANC's armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation", or MK). In August 1962 he was arrested and jailed for five years for illegal travel abroad and incitement to strike. In June 1964 he was sentenced again, this time to life imprisonment, for his involvement in planning armed action.

Refusing an offer of conditional release in return for renouncing armed struggle (February 1985), Mandela remained in prison until February 1990, when sustained ANC campaigning and international pressure led to his release on February 11 on the orders of state president F.W. de Klerk and the ending of the ban on the ANC. He and de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

As president of the ANC (July 1991 - December 1997) and first black president of South Africa (May 1994 - June 1999), Mandela presided over the transition from minority rule and apartheid, winning international respect for his advocacy of national and international reconciliation. Some radicals were disappointed with the social achievements of his term of office, however, particularly the government's ineffectiveness in stemming the AIDS crisis.

Mandela was also criticized for his close friendship with dictators such as Fidel Castro and Moammar Al Qadhafi, whom he called his "comrades in arms." His decision to commit South African troops to defeat the 1998 coup of Lesotho also remains a topic of some controversy.

Mandela has been married three times. His first marriage to Evelyn Ntoko Mase ended in divorce in 1957 after 13 years, and his 38-year marriage to Winnie Madikizela in separation (April 1992) and divorce (March 1996) fuelled by political estrangement. On his 80th birthday he married Graca Machel, widow of Samora Machel, the former Mozambican president and ANC ally killed in an air crash 15 years earlier.

After his retirement as President in 1999, Mandela went on to become an advocate for a variety of social and human rights organizations. He received many foreign honors, including the Order of St. John from Queen Elizabeth II and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush.

He is the only other person of non-Indian origin (Mother Teresa being the other) to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, in 1990.

In 2003, Mandela made some controversial speeches, attacking the foreign policy of the Bush administration. Later that same year, he lent his support to the 46664 AIDS fundraising campaign, named after his prison number.


See List of awards bestowed on Nelson Mandela.


External Links