Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (; Xhosa: [xoliɬaˈɬa manˈdɛla]; 18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013)

  • was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader, and philanthropist who served

  • as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country's first black head

  • of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government

  • focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid by tackling institutionalised racism and fostering

  • racial reconciliation. Ideologically an African nationalist and socialist, he served as President

  • of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997.

  • A Xhosa, Mandela was born to the Thembu royal family in Mvezo, British South Africa. He

  • studied law at the University of Fort Hare and the University of the Witwatersrand before

  • working as a lawyer in Johannesburg. There he became involved in anti-colonial and African

  • nationalist politics, joining the ANC in 1943 and co-founding its Youth League in 1944.

  • After the National Party's white-only government established apartheid, a system of racial

  • segregation that privileged whites, he and the ANC committed themselves to its overthrow.

  • Mandela was appointed President of the ANC's Transvaal branch, rising to prominence for

  • his involvement in the 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1955 Congress of the People. He was

  • repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the 1956

  • Treason Trial. Influenced by Marxism, he secretly joined the banned South African Communist

  • Party (SACP). Although initially committed to non-violent protest, in association with

  • the SACP he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961 and led a sabotage campaign

  • against the government. He was arrested and imprisoned in 1962, and subsequently sentenced

  • to life imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the state following the Rivonia Trial.

  • Mandela served 27 years in prison, split between Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison, and Victor

  • Verster Prison. Amid growing domestic and international pressure, and with fears of

  • a racial civil war, President F. W. de Klerk released him in 1990. Mandela and de Klerk

  • led efforts to negotiate an end to apartheid, which resulted in the 1994 multiracial general

  • election in which Mandela led the ANC to victory and became President. Leading a broad coalition

  • government which promulgated a new constitution, Mandela emphasised reconciliation between

  • the country's racial groups and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate

  • past human rights abuses. Economically, Mandela's administration retained its predecessor's

  • liberal framework despite his own socialist beliefs, also introducing measures to encourage

  • land reform, combat poverty, and expand healthcare services. Internationally, he acted as mediator

  • in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial and served as Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned

  • Movement from 1998 to 1999. He declined a second presidential term, and in 1999 was

  • succeeded by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. Mandela became an elder statesman and focused on combating

  • poverty and HIV/AIDS through the charitable Nelson Mandela Foundation.

  • Mandela was a controversial figure for much of his life. Although critics on the right

  • denounced him as a communist terrorist and those on the radical left deemed him too eager

  • to negotiate and reconcile with apartheid's supporters, he gained international acclaim

  • for his activism. Widely regarded as an icon of democracy and social justice, he received

  • more than 250 honoursincluding the Nobel Peace Prizeand became the subject of a

  • cult of personality. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred

  • to by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba, and described as the "Father of the Nation".

  • == Early life ==

  • === Childhood: 1918–1934 === Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in the village

  • of Mvezo in Umtata, then part of South Africa's Cape Province. Given the forename Rolihlahla,

  • a Xhosa term colloquially meaning "troublemaker", in later years he became known by his clan

  • name, Madiba. His patrilineal great-grandfather, Ngubengcuka, was king of the Thembu people

  • in the Transkeian Territories of South Africa's modern Eastern Cape province. One of Ngubengcuka's

  • sons, named Mandela, was Nelson's grandfather and the source of his surname. Because Mandela

  • was the king's child by a wife of the Ixhiba clan, a so-called "Left-Hand House", the descendants

  • of his cadet branch of the royal family were morganatic, ineligible to inherit the throne

  • but recognised as hereditary royal councillors.Nelson Mandela's father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa

  • Mandela, was a local chief and councillor to the monarch; he was appointed to the position

  • in 1915, after his predecessor was accused of corruption by a governing white magistrate.

  • In 1926, Gadla was also sacked for corruption, but Nelson was told that his father had lost

  • his job for standing up to the magistrate's unreasonable demands. A devotee of the god

  • Qamata, Gadla was a polygamist with four wives, four sons and nine daughters, who lived in

  • different villages. Nelson's mother was Gadla's third wife, Nosekeni Fanny, daughter of Nkedama

  • of the Right Hand House and a member of the amaMpemvu clan of the Xhosa.

  • Mandela later stated that his early life was dominated by traditional Thembu custom and

  • taboo. He grew up with two sisters in his mother's kraal in the village of Qunu, where

  • he tended herds as a cattle-boy and spent much time outside with other boys. Both his

  • parents were illiterate, but being a devout Christian, his mother sent him to a local

  • Methodist school when he was about seven. Baptised a Methodist, Mandela was given the

  • English forename of "Nelson" by his teacher. When Mandela was about nine, his father came

  • to stay at Qunu, where he died of an undiagnosed ailment which Mandela believed to be lung

  • disease. Feeling "cut adrift", he later said that he inherited his father's "proud rebelliousness"

  • and "stubborn sense of fairness".Mandela's mother took him to the "Great Place" palace

  • at Mqhekezweni, where he was entrusted to the guardianship of the Thembu regent, Chief

  • Jongintaba Dalindyebo. Although he did not see his mother again for many years, Mandela

  • felt that Jongintaba and his wife Noengland treated him as their own child, raising him

  • alongside their son, Justice, and daughter, Nomafu. As Mandela attended church services

  • every Sunday with his guardians, Christianity became a significant part of his life. He

  • attended a Methodist mission school located next to the palace, where he studied English,

  • Xhosa, history and geography. He developed a love of African history, listening to the

  • tales told by elderly visitors to the palace, and was influenced by the anti-imperialist

  • rhetoric of a visiting chief, Joyi. At the time he nevertheless considered the European

  • colonialists not as oppressors but as benefactors who had brought education and other benefits

  • to southern Africa. Aged 16, he, Justice and several other boys travelled to Tyhalarha

  • to undergo the ulwaluko circumcision ritual that symbolically marked their transition

  • from boys to men; afterwards he was given the name Dalibunga.

  • === Clarkebury, Healdtown, and Fort Hare: 1934–1940 ===

  • Intending to gain skills needed to become a privy councillor for the Thembu royal house,

  • in 1933 Mandela began his secondary education at Clarkebury Methodist High School in Engcobo,

  • a Western-style institution that was the largest school for black Africans in Thembuland. Made

  • to socialise with other students on an equal basis, he claimed that he lost his "stuck

  • up" attitude, becoming best friends with a girl for the first time; he began playing

  • sports and developed his lifelong love of gardening. He completed his Junior Certificate

  • in two years, and in 1937 moved to Healdtown, the Methodist college in Fort Beaufort attended

  • by most Thembu royalty, including Justice. The headmaster emphasised the superiority

  • of English culture and government, but Mandela became increasingly interested in native African

  • culture, making his first non-Xhosa friend, a speaker of Sotho, and coming under the influence

  • of one of his favourite teachers, a Xhosa who broke taboo by marrying a Sotho. Mandela

  • spent much of his spare time at Healdtown as a long-distance runner and boxer, and in

  • his second year he became a prefect.With Jongintaba's backing, in 1939 Mandela began work on a BA

  • degree at the University of Fort Hare, an elite black institution in Alice, Eastern

  • Cape, with around 150 students. There he studied English, anthropology, politics, native administration,

  • and Roman Dutch law in his first year, desiring to become an interpreter or clerk in the Native

  • Affairs Department. Mandela stayed in the Wesley House dormitory, befriending his own

  • kinsman, K. D. Matanzima, as well as Oliver Tambo, who became a close friend and comrade

  • for decades to come. He took up ballroom dancing, performed in a drama society play about Abraham

  • Lincoln, and gave Bible classes in the local community as part of the Student Christian

  • Association. Although he had friends connected to the African National Congress (ANC) who

  • wanted South Africa to be independent of the British Empire, Mandela avoided any involvement

  • with the anti-imperialist movement, and became a vocal supporter of the British war effort

  • when the Second World War broke out. He helped to found a first-year students' house committee

  • which challenged the dominance of the second-years, and at the end of his first year became involved

  • in a Students' Representative Council (SRC) boycott against the quality of food, for which

  • he was suspended from the university; he never returned to complete his degree.

  • === Arriving in Johannesburg: 1941–1943 ===

  • Returning to Mqhekezweni in December 1940, Mandela found that Jongintaba had arranged

  • marriages for him and Justice; dismayed, they fled to Johannesburg via Queenstown, arriving

  • in April 1941. Mandela found work as a night watchman at Crown Mines, his "first sight

  • of South African capitalism in action", but was fired when the induna (headman) discovered

  • that he was a runaway. He stayed with a cousin in George Goch Township, who introduced Mandela

  • to realtor and ANC activist Walter Sisulu. The latter secured Mandela a job as an articled

  • clerk at the law firm of Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman, a company run by Lazar Sidelsky,

  • a liberal Jew sympathetic to the ANC's cause. At the firm, Mandela befriended Gaur Radebe—a

  • Xhosa member of the ANC and Communist Partyand Nat Bregman, a Jewish communist who became

  • his first white friend. Mandela attended Communist Party gatherings, where he was impressed that

  • Europeans, Africans, Indians, and Coloureds mixed as equals. He later stated that he did

  • not join the Party because its atheism conflicted with his Christian faith, and because he saw

  • the South African struggle as being racially based rather than as class warfare. To continue

  • his higher education, Mandela signed up to a University of South Africa correspondence

  • course, working on his bachelor's degree at night.Earning a small wage, Mandela rented

  • a room in the house of the Xhoma family in the Alexandra township; despite being rife

  • with poverty, crime and pollution, Alexandra always remained a special place for him. Although

  • embarrassed by his poverty, he briefly dated a Swazi woman before unsuccessfully courting

  • his landlord's daughter. To save money and be closer to downtown Johannesburg, Mandela

  • moved into the compound of the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association, living among miners

  • of various tribes; as the compound was visited by various chiefs, he once met the Queen Regent

  • of Basutoland. In late 1941, Jongintaba visited Johannesburgthere forgiving Mandela for

  • running awaybefore returning to Thembuland, where he died in the winter of 1942. Mandela

  • and Justice arrived a day late for the funeral. After he passed his BA exams in early 1943,

  • Mandela returned to Johannesburg to follow a political path as a lawyer rather than become

  • a privy councillor in Thembuland. He later stated that he experienced no epiphany, but

  • that he "simply found [himself] doing so, and could not do otherwise."

  • == Revolutionary activity ==

  • === Law studies and the ANC Youth League: 1943–1949 ===

  • Mandela began studying law at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he was the only

  • black African student and faced racism. There, he befriended liberal and communist European,

  • Jewish, and Indian students, among them Joe Slovo and Ruth First. Becoming increasingly

  • politicised, in August 1943 Mandela marched in support of a successful bus boycott to

  • reverse fare rises. Joining the ANC, he was increasingly influenced by Sisulu, spending

  • time with other activists at Sisulu's Orlando house, including his old friend Oliver Tambo.

  • In 1943, Mandela met Anton Lembede, an ANC member affiliated with the "Africanist" branch

  • of African nationalism, which was virulently opposed to a racially united front against

  • colonialism and imperialism or to an alliance with the communists. Despite his friendships

  • with non-blacks and communists, Mandela embraced Lembede's views, believing that black Africans

  • should be entirely independent in their struggle for political self-determination. Deciding

  • on the need for a youth wing to mass-mobilise Africans in opposition to their subjugation,

  • Mandela was among a delegation that approached ANC President Alfred Bitini Xuma on the subject

  • at his home in Sophiatown; the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) was founded

  • on Easter Sunday 1944 in the Bantu Men's Social Centre, with Lembede as President and Mandela

  • as a member of its executive committee.

  • At Sisulu's house, Mandela met Evelyn Mase, a trainee nurse and ANC activist from Engcobo,

  • Transkei. Entering a relationship and marrying in October 1944, they initially lived with

  • her relatives until moving into a rented house in the township of Orlando in early 1946.

  • Their first child, Madiba "Thembi" Thembekile, was born in February 1945; a daughter, Makaziwe,

  • was born in 1947 but died of meningitis nine months later. Mandela enjoyed home life, welcoming