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Nelson Rolihlala Mandela: Summary of the Early Years

Nelson Rolihlala Mandela
(18.7.1918 – 5.12.2013)

Rolihlala Mandela was born in the Transkei, South Africa but the name Nelson was added much later by a teacher. His parents were Nongaphi Nosekeni and Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla and the Mandelas were close to Acting King Jongintaba Dalindyebo of the Thembu people. In fact, they were so close that when Rolihlala’s father passed away, he became a ward of the Acting King at the Great Place in Mqhekezweni.

Rolihlala was only twelve years old and a bit of a handful because he was as mischievous as other boys. He was sent to primary school in Qunu and then to Clarkebury Boarding Institute and finally to Healdtown Wesleyan Secondary School to matriculate. After school he studied for a BA at Fort Hare University and got expelled for taking part in a protest. He had to finish his degree via long distance learning through the University of South Africa.

The now King Jongintaba, was most unhappy with the behaviour and let Rolihlala know he would be choosing wives for him and his cousin so the pair fled. In 1941, Johannesburg, he was a security guard for the mines and met Walter Sisulu who put him in touch with lawyers Witkin, Eidelman and Sidelsky. Through them Nelson completed his articles.

Mandela tried getting an LLB at the University of Witwatersrand but dropped out. He the studied through the University of London in the sixties while in prison but didn’t finish. Eventually, he got his LLB in 1989, through the University of South Africa. He did say he wasn’t a good student.

He found time for love and married Walter Sisulu’s cousin, a nurse, Evelyn Mase in 1944, and had two sons and 2 daughters. Evelyn became a Jehovah’s Witness and abstained from politics. She accused Nelson of adultery and they were divorced in 1958.

Nelson completed a diploma (2 years) so that with his BA he was able to start a law firm with Oliver Tambo in August 1952, but before the year closed, he became a banned person and was arrested in 1955. Nelson and fellow South Africans of different races were part of the 1956 Treason Trial but in 1961 all were exonerated.

In 1958, while on trial, Nelson married another beauty, Winnie Madikizele, a social worker and they had two daughters but divorced in 1996.

Immediately after the Treason Trial he went underground and in June 1962, headed the armed struggle forming Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation) and went to Ethiopia and Morocco for military training and also to raise funds in Africa and England. When he got back to South Africa he was arrested on 5 August, 1962, in Howick, Natal and was charged with “inciting workers to strike and leaving the country illegally” and got five years in Pretoria Prison.

In 1963, along with ten comrades, was again put on trial, “for sabotage”. This was called the Rivonia Trial and where Mandela gave his famed “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination” speech in 1964. Nelson and six of his comrades were sent to Robben Island Prison but the seventh, Denis Goldberg, was sent to Pretoria Prison because he was white.

While in Prison for 27 years Nelson’s mother died in 1968 and his eldest son, Thembi in 1969. The Apartheid regime refused to let him attend their funerals.


Contributors Bio

Contributor photo Lona Glenn
Los Angeles
Lona graduated from Los Angeles City College. While being a lecturer in several high school institutions Lona founded an online educational project Tutorsclass.Read more
Contributor photo Maria Castle
Davis, CA
I studied education and currently work as a tutor for school-age children. I've worked as a volunteer in many different international social projects and as a camp counselor every summer.Read more

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