Rolihahla in the Xhosa language means pulling the branch of a tree, but was more commonly translated to mean troublemaker… such as Nelson Mandela allegedly was, in his youth.

Nelson Mandela was born on the 18th of July 1918 in MVEZ, TRANSKE South Africa to father Nkosi Mphakanyiswana Gadla Mandela and mother Nonqaphil Noskeni. His father, who should have become a chief, served as a counselor to tribal chiefs for several years but lost his title and fortune over a dispute with the local authorities. As a result of his father’s death, Mandela moved with his mother to a smaller town, as living conditions were proving difficult.

Early Life and Anti-Apartheid Activism:

Nelson Mandela attended primary school at Qunu where his teacher gave him the name Nelson in accordance with giving all school children Christian names. He finished his junior certificate at Clarkebury Boarding Institute and went to Healdtown, a Wesleyan Secondary of some repute, before matriculating to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University College of Fort Hare. He was not able to complete the course, however, as a result of an expulsion after he joined a student protest.

Nelson Mandela, along with his cousin and childhood “accomplice” Justice, fled to Johannesburg arriving there in 1941. There he worked as a mine security officer and in the course of time met Walter Sisulu, then an estate agent. Sisulu eventually became an anti-apartheid activist and member of the African National Congress. He was also introduced to Lazer Sidelsky, a South African attorney who not only visited him in prison eventually but hired him in his law firm as well.

Nelson Mandela completed his BA at the University of South Africa and went back to Fort Hare for his graduation ceremony in 1943. He began studying for an LLB at the University of Witwatersand but thought he was such a poor student by his own standards that he left in 1952 without graduating.

In 1989, in the final months of his imprisonment, he obtained an LLB at the University of South Africa and graduated in absentia at a ceremony in Cape Town. But lest we run ahead of ourselves, mek wih get back to the chronology of his experiences.

Nelson Mandela got involved in politics as he seemed inclined to do from he was a child. In 1944 he joined the African National Congress where he helped to form the ANC youth league. He also got married to Walter Sisulu’s cousin Evelyn Mase, who was a nurse. They had two sons together Madiba and Thembi and two daughters both named Makazike. The first died in infancy and he and his wife divorced in 1958.

Meanwhile, he kept growing through the ranks of the ANC, and through his efforts the ANC adopted a more radical policy called the Programme of Action in 1949.

 In 1952 he was appointed the position as the National Volunteer and Chief of the Defiance campaign, a campaign of civil disobedience against unjust laws. It was a joint effort between the ANC and the South Africa Indian Congress. Kotch Magazine.

Nelson Mandela had several run-ins with the police over a number of years. In 1952 he and 19 others were charged under the Suppression of Communism Act and sentenced to nine months in prison with hard labor.

In 1952 he and Oliver Tambo also established South Africa’s first Black law firm, Mandela and Tambo. At the end of 1952, he was banned for the first time as a restricted person and was only permitted to watch in secret as the Freedom Charter was adopted in Kliptown on the 26th of June 1955.

Nelson Mandela was again detained on the 5th of December 1955 in a police operation which led to the 1956 Treason Trial. Men and women of all races found themselves in the court to hear the summation of the trial that ended when the last 28 accused, including himself, were acquitted on the 29th of March 1961.

In March 1960 police killed 69 unarmed people in a protest in Sharpville. They were allegedly “acting against the law.” This led to a state of emergency and the banning of the ANC and PAC on the 8th of April that year. These organizations were built by Mandela and his associates. As a result, Mandela was among the thousands who were detained during the state of emergency.

During the trial, Nelson got married to a social worker Winnie Madikizela. The marriage produced two daughters Zenani and Zindsiwa. On the 9th of October 1963, Mandela was put on trial for sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial.

While facing the death penalty his words to the court became immortalized. He stated, “I have fought against White domination. 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 that I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal which I am prepared to die for.”

On the 11th of June 1964, Nelson Mandela was convicted and sentenced to LIFE IMPRISONMENT on Robben Island. While he was locked up his mother and his eldest son passed away. He was not allowed to attend their funeral.

Robben Island is a maximum security prison located 6 miles from the mainland and from where Msomi, a fellow inmate reported, that inmates endured regular beatings and extreme torture at the hands of sadistic guards whose tactics went largely unchecked. Black prisoners were subjected to the worst treatment in what has been referred to as “the Alcatraz of South Africa.” Inmates weren’t given shoes or sufficient clothing. Many were forced every day to do hard labor in a limestone quarry under the glare of the searing African sun. At night they slept on the stone floor of their tiny cells or on rickety spring beds in larger, overcrowded cells.

But those hardships all paled in comparison to solitary confinement, the punishment inmates feared most and it didn’t take much to end up there. Being caught reading a newspaper or political literature, singing songs about freedom, organizing card games, or working too slowly were just some of the punishable offences which could land one there.

A typical day in the prison saw many inmates having to break rocks in the island’s limestone quarry. Due to working without sun shades, many of the prisoners suffered permanent eye damage from the glare of the white lime – including Mandela, who had to be prescribed glasses as a result.

Nelson Mandela was temporarily transferred to Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town due to illness. He returned to Robben Island in November 1985, after prostate surgery. While in hospital he met with Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee and later initiated talks about an ultimate meeting between the apartheid government and the ANC.

On the 12th of August 1988, he was again taken to hospital, where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. After more than three months in two hospitals, he was transferred on the 7th of December to a house at Victor Verster Prison where he spent his last 14 months of imprisonment. He was released on Sunday 11th February 1990, nine days after the unbanning of the ANC and the PAC. Throughout his imprisonment, he had rejected at least three conditional offers of release.

Presidency and Legacy of Reconciliation:

Nelson Mandela immersed himself in official talks with White minority rulers and in 1991 was elected ANC President to replace his ailing friend Oliver Tambo. In 1993 he along with Frederik Willem de Klerk won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundation for a new democratic South Africa, and on the 27th of April 1994 he voted for the first time in his life.

On May 10th, 1994, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president. He was the first non-White head of state in the history of South Africa and he took office at 75 years old.


On his 80th birthday in 1998, he married Graca Machel, his third wife. Due to health issues, he did not seek re-election in 1999 but stepped down to continue his work with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund which he had set up in 1995 as well as establishing the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation.


Nelson Mandela never wavered in his devotion to democracy, equality, and learning, despite terrible provocation. He never answered racism with racism. His life was an inspiration to all who were oppressed or deprived and to all those who were opposed to oppression and deprivation alike.

“May his soul rest in peace,” was probably echoed globally, when the news of his death was announced. He died at his home in Johannesburg on the 5th of December 2013.

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Contributed by: Ayun Daley

Marlene Daley
Marlene Daley
Founder & Producer of KotchMagazine,com, Belovedones.Love and Kotch.Media


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