Considered the Father of South Africa, Nelson Mandela fought for freedom and equal rights throughout his life. The kind of leader he became was greatly influenced by defining moments in his youth, the like-minded people he met and the political opportunities he took. For you to know more, check out these 10 interesting facts about the life of Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela Facts
1. His father died when he was just 12 years old.
Nelson Mandela’s father worked as a local chief and councilor to the Acting King of the Thembu people. After his death, Mandela followed in his footsteps and got involved with the monarchy, working as a ward at the Great Place in Mqhekezweni. It was there that he became aware about the contributions of his ancestors to the African plight for freedom, which inspired him to do what he could for the same cause.
2. Mandela was expelled from college due to his participation in student protests.
Mandela went to the University College of Fort Hare hoping to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree. However, after getting involved in his first student protest, he was kicked out of the university, an interesting Nelson Mandela fact. Regardless of this misfortune, the university unknowingly shaped his life for the better, as this is where he met fellow activist and lifelong friend, Oliver Tambo. Since then, they became lawyers and activists with a cause, as they established South Africa’s first black law firm (Mandela & Tambo) and continued to fight for the same anti-racism advocacies.
3. Nelson Mandela ran away from home to avoid an arranged marriage.
After leaving the University College of Fort Hare, the Acting King who he worked for decided to set him up on an arranged marriage. This prompted him to run away and move to Johannesburg. Ironically enough, it is where he found true love and met his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, an interesting fact about Nelson Mandela. During this time, he also completed his Bachelor of Arts course in the University of South Africa and met fellow activists who would shape his thinking and influence his ideals of a free country.
4. He first got involved in politics when he was 25 years old, joining the African National Congress (ANC).
Together with his friend Tambo, Nelson Mandela joined the African National Congress and founded its Youth League whose sole intention was to safeguard and promote the rights of black Africans. His involvement in the ANC further grew in 1948, when the National Party governed the country and implemented the infamous “apartheid system”. It institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination across Africa, where the white minority ruled and other races were treated as lower class citizens. This injustice motivated Nelson Mandela and fellow members of the ANC to step up their freedom efforts.
5. Mandela is known for leading powerful anti-apartheid campaigns, which united many races across Africa.
Throughout his years with the ANC, Mandela got involved in many aggressive campaigns against the government. For one, he became the National Volunteer-in-Chief of the Defiance Campaign, a nonviolent campaign that encouraged civil disobedience to oppose six laws that promoted racial segregation. Protesters showed their opposition and defiance by wearing armbands, burning their pass books, entering white-only establishments.
Another successful campaign was the Congress for the People in 1955, a multi-racial assembly that united many anti-apartheid groups across South Africa. Around 3,000 delegates of all races gathered in Kliptown to read the Freedom Charter, a document they created to honour the dreams and aspirations of all races across South Africa.
6. He spent 27 years in prison.
Nelson Mandela was in hiding for 17 months before finally getting caught and imprisoned by the government. While working underground, he formed ANC’s guerrilla military wing called the “Umkhonto we Sizwe”, which meant “Spear of the Nation”. He went on a secret trip to London to meet military connections and even trained under the military in Ethiopia and Morocco. He was caught upon his return to South Africa and spent his longest time in prison from 1964 to 1990.
7. Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 together with his former enemy.
Towards the end of the apartheid regime, Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with Frederik Willem De Klerk, the last president of the apartheid system, an interesting Nelson Mandela fact. Although De Klerk initially supported it, his change of heart made him sympathize with Mandela, pardoning him and releasing him from prison. Together, they put an end to the unjust policy and started efforts towards a democratic South Africa.
8. Mandela became the President of South Africa in 1994, making history in many ways.
South Africa had its first general elections in 1994, where citizens of all races were given equal rights to vote. An interesting Nelson Mandela fact is that it was also Mandela’s first time to vote in his entire life, at the age of 76.
The ANC won, and Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president. Moreover, he was also the country’s first black president, the oldest official elected to the government, and the president whose inauguration became the largest gathering of state heads since JFK’s funeral.
9. Although he lived a very inspiring public life, his personal life was inflicted with some tragedies.
Nelson Mandela had 3 children with his first wife, who all died before he did. His first child, Thembi, died in a car crash in 1969. Mandela was in prison at the time and was not given any details or allowed to attend the funeral. His second child passed away just nine months after being born, and his third child died of AIDS.
10. His legacy as an advocate for freedom and human rights lives on until this day.
Nelson Mandela lived 95 full years before he passed away in 2013. The world continues to honour his legacy through education and human formation. More than 25 schools worldwide are named after him, and at least 19 scholarships and foundations have been established because of him.
Nelson Mandela was a leader who united a nation and inspired humankind. His contributions to making South Africa the democratic nation it is today will be remembered for generations to come.
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