Unknown Facts About Nelson Mandela

The first black president of South Africa, and the first president to be elected in a fully representative election. Nelson Mandela and his work changed the lives of many South Africans, It is hard to imagine what the state of South Africa would be if it weren’t for the contributions of this great leader. His government focused on destroying the Apartheid government in the country, which had focused on racial segregation enforced by the law. Nelson Mandela was admired all over the world and is one of the most beloved political leaders of all time. Though you might have been familiar with his work against the Apartheid government, and his infamous imprisonment, there are several things you may not know about this revolutionary leader.

Unknown Facts About Nelson Mandela

  • Nelson Mandela attended Fort Hare Missionary College; however, he was expelled for organizing a strike against the white rule of the college.1 Unknown Facts About Nelson Mandela
  • Mandela’s real first name is Rolihlahla, meaning “pulling the branch of a tree” or “troublemaker”. He was given the name Nelson by a teacher because, in the early 20th century, South African children were often given English names due to the colonial presence in the country.
  • In his family, Nelson Mandela was the first to receive formal education. At that time, very few black kids attained high school education in South Africa.7 Unknown Facts About Nelson Mandela
  • Mandela’s father, Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, was a chief in the tribe, and the family was considered royalty. He died from lung disease when Nelson was 12 years old.
  • He became more interested in South African politics when he started working as a law clerk at the law firm Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman after moving to Johannesburg.
  • Nelson Mandela, when he became aware that his guardians arranged his marriage, fled to Johannesburg. He stole cattle and sold it to collect money for his travels.
  • In 1952, Nelson Mandela was convicted under the Suppression of Communism Act, and was banned from leaving Johannesburg and participating in public gatherings. The same year, he formed the first black partnership in South Africa.4 Unknown Facts About Nelson Mandela
  • Though Mandela started at the University of Witwatersrand, he was expelled for participating in student protests.
  • Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1944, and formed the ANC Youth League along with some others during the same year. The group was displeased by the policies and principles of the Congress, and wanted to erect their own party.
  • Mandela often disguised himself to escape being arrested for his political activity, dressing like a fieldworker or a chef to evade the police.
  • Dressed as a chauffeur, Mandela was arrested on August 5, 1962, for inciting strikes and leaving the country without permission. He would remain in jail until 1990, serving time in multiple prisons including Robben Island, where he spent 18 years.
  • In prison, Mandela lived in a small cell without a bed or plumbing, forced to do hard labour in a limestone quarry during the day.6 Unknown Facts About Nelson Mandela
  • In 1963, Mandela was also charged with sabotage. At his trial, which is now known as the Rivonia Trial, he gave his famous “Speech from the Dock”, stating, “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.”
  • While he was in prison, he was told that if he stopped his acts of violence, he would be allowed to go free. He did not agree to this provision.
  • His work in the quarry permanently damaged Mandela’s eyes, injuring his tear glands so severely that the leader could not produce tears later in life.5 Unknown Facts About Nelson Mandela
  • Mandela earned his bachelor of law degree from the University of South Africa while imprisoned.
  • In 1968, both his mother and son passed away. However, he was not permitted out of prison to attend their funerals.
  • Initially, Mandela was classified as a Class D prisoner. This meant he could only receive one visit and one letter every six months.
  • Mandela exercised every morning for the 27 years he spent in prison, according to the BBC.
  • Robben Island was jokingly called the “University of Robben Island” because many of Mandela’s fellow inmates learned to read and write, and debated politics and history while serving time alongside the leader. Some inmates even earned “diplomas” signed by Mandela.
  • Mandela enjoyed many sports growing up. He was an avid boxer and long-distance runner from a young age. Mandela particularly enjoyed boxing because it offered everyone an equal chance to participate. In Long Walk to Freedom, he said, “Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, colour and wealth are irrelevant.”3 Unknown Facts About Nelson Mandela
  • He was the only black student in his law school class at the University of Witwatersrand.
  • Mandela was imprisoned from 1962-1990 for treason and conspiracy against the government. He was sentenced to life in prison, but was released early when the ANC became legal again.
  • Mandela is considered the father of Modern South Africa. He was instrumental in tearing down the oppressive government and installing democracy.
  • After retirement from politics, Mandela started the Nelson Mandela Foundation that focused on combating HIV/AIDS and supported rural development and school construction.
  • In 2009, the United Nations proclaimed Mandela’s birthday (July 18th) to be Nelson Mandela International Day. The holiday asks people to spend 67 minutes doing something good for others, which represents the 67 years he spent working toward change.
  • He has honorary degrees from more than 50 universities worldwide.
  • He was married in 1944 to Evelyn Ntoko Mase. They were married for 13 years. He married Winnie Madikizela in 1958 and they divorced in 1996 after 38 years. In 1998, on his 80th birthday he married Graca Machel, who was the widow of a former Mozambique president.
  • He fathered six children, had 17 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.
  • During Mandela’s administration, 1.5 million more South African children were enrolled in school and 2 million people gained access to electricity.

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