The life and times of Nelson Mandela 95 defining years, from freedom fighter to world statesman
18 July 1918
Rolihlahla Mandela is born into the Madiba clan in Mvezo, Transkei (now in the Eastern Cape), the youngest son of Gadla Hendry Mphakanyiswa, a chief in the Thembu tribe of the Xhosa nation. The name Rolihlahla translates literally as ‘pulling the branch of a tree,’ but is usually taken to mean ‘troublemaker’. According to custom, Mandela’s primary school teacher in nearby Qunu gives him an English name – Nelson.
Mandela’s father dies. The nine-year-old boy is sent to the Great Place at Mqhekezweni, capital of Thembuland, where the regent Chief Jongintaba acts as his guardian.
Visit: The Nelson Mandela Museum (nelsonmandelamuseum.org.za), at twin sites in Mthatha and Qunu, celebrates Madiba’s life and work. The main museum at the Bhunga Building in Mthatha is undergoing renovation, and will reopen in March 2014. The Nelson Mandela Youth & Heritage Centre at Qunu is close to Mandela’s house.
Mandela attends Clarkebury Boarding Institute and later Healdtown Wesleyan College in Fort Beaufort, where he takes up running and boxing.
Mandela begins his studies at the University College of Fort Hare, which was also attended by Steve Biko and Robert Mugabe. There he meets Oliver Tambo (after whom Johannesburg’s international airport is named); both are suspended for protesting about the quality of food on campus. Mandela graduates in 1943.
Visit:The University of Fort Hare (ufh.ac.za) is at Alice, west of King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape.
Mandela and his cousin Justice, the regent’s son, flee arranged marriages and head to Johannesburg. After working as a night watchman at a gold mine, Mandela becomes an articled clerk at the law firm of Witkin, Sidelsk and Eidelman.
With Tambo, Mandela founds the Youth League of the African National Congress (ANC). He marries Evelyn Mase, with whom he has four children. In 1946, they move to a small house at 8115 Orlando West in Soweto.
Visit: The Soweto home Mandela shared with first wife Evelyn and, later his second wife Winnie, is now Mandela House (mandelahouse.co.za), a heritage site and museum reflecting the different eras that its inhabitants lived through. “It was the opposite of grand, but it was my first true home of my own,” wrote Mandela, “and I was mightily proud.”
4 June 1948
National Party gains control of government and implements programme of apartheid – racial segregation.
Visit: The Apartheid Museum (apartheidmuseum.org) in Johannesburg offers a powerful and chilling insight into the darkest moments of the country’s history, and apartheid’s effects on non-white South Africans.
Mandela joins National Executive of the ANC.
26 June 1952
ANC launches Defiance Campaign, aiming to force the government to repeal the ‘six unjust laws’. Mandela is detained – the first of several arrests – and in December is convicted of ‘statutory communism’. For much of the next decade he is banned from office, from attending public meetings and, for some of that time, from leaving Johannesburg.
Mandela and Tambo, South Africa’s first black law firm, is established.
Visit: Mandela & Tambo Law Offices at 25 Fox St are now empty, but the ground-floor windows of Chancellor House currently act as a museum, displaying photos, police documents and other archive material about the law practice. Across the street stands a new statue of Mandela by Marco Cianfanelli, called Shadow Boxing.
3 September 1953
Mandela is forced to resign from the ANC.
5 December 1956
Mandela is arrested again, along with 155 other activists, and charged in proceedings that become known as the Treason Trial. After four years, in March 1961, they are found not guilty, and acquitted. Mandela goes underground to plan further action.
Visit: MuseuMAfricA (gauteng.net) in Johannesburg features a display, Tried for Treason, about the proceedings involving Mandela.
14 June 1958
Mandela marries Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela, with whom he has two daughters.
11 January 1962
Mandela secretly leaves the country under the name David Motsamayi, and travels around Africa for military training and to garner support for the ANC – banned two years earlier. He returns to South Africa in July.
5 August 1962
Disguised as a chauffeur and driving a white theatre director, Cecil Williams, Mandela is stopped and arrested by armed police. Charged with leaving the country illegally and inciting a strike, he receives a five-year sentence, and is initially imprisoned in Pretoria.
Visit: The Nelson Mandela Capture Site, on Route 103 near Howick in KwaZulu-Natal, is now marked by Marco Cianfanelli’s striking sculpture. Fifty steel columns, some nearly 10m tall, are aligned to create a vision of Mandela. There is a small exhibition nearby.
27 May 1963
Mandela is transferred to Robben Island, a jail notorious for its brutal treatment of political prisoners. After a few weeks he is returned to Pretoria.
Visit: Liliesleaf (liliesleaf.co.za) was a secret hideout for the liberation movement in Rivonia near Johannesburg. In July 1963 it was raided by the police, revealing vital evidence. Today it’s an important museum.
11 June 1964
Mandela and seven others are convicted of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment. The proceedings are dubbed the Rivonia Treason Trial. On 13 June he is again transferred to Robben Island, where he spends nearly 18 more years. Mandela continues his activism while in prison.
Visit: Robben Island (robben-island.org.za), off Cape Town, is now a World Heritage Site where visitors joining a fascinating tour meet a former political prisoner and explore the jail.
19 June 1976
Police open fire during student protests in Soweto, killing 13-year-old Hector Pieterson. The resulting Soweto Uprising and police clampdown ends with scores of deaths, bringing the brutal realities of apartheid to the world’s attention.
Visit: The Hector Pieterson Memorial (Khumalo St), near the spot at which he was shot, and Museum commemorate the uprising and the role Soweto’s community played in the struggle for freedom.
31 March 1982
Mandela is transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town.
10 February 1985
Rejects, through his daughter, Zindzi, South African President’s PW Botha’s offer to release him if he renounces violence.
9 December 1988
After being treated for tuberculosis, Mandela is moved to a cottage at Victor Verster Prison near Paarl in the Western Cape.
Visit: Drakenstein Correctional Centre, formerly Victor Verster Prison, is still a jail. There is a statue of Mandela, fist raised, at the entrance.
11 February 1990
Released from Victor Verster Prison nine days after the ANC is again legalised, Mandela makes his first speech as a free man from the balcony of City Hall, Cape Town.
Visit: Cape Town’s City Hall is a grand sandstone Edwardian building, built in Renaissance style in 1905.
5 July 1991
Mandela is elected president of the ANC, replacing his ailing friend Oliver Tambo.
Mandela is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (jointly with former president FW de Klerk).
27 April 1994
Mandela votes for the first time in his life in a free and democratic election.
10 May 1994
Mandela is inaugurated as the first black president of the Republic of South Africa, following the country’s first fully democratic elections on 27 April. In December,he launches his highly acclaimed autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.
18 July 1998
On his 80th birthday, Mandela marries Graça Machel, former First Lady of Mozambique.
Mandela steps down as president. Establishes the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Visit: The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory (nelsonmandela.org) provides a public information resource on his life and times.
Mandela votes for the fourth time in his life and attends the inauguration of President Jacob Zuma.
5 December 2013
Nelson Mandela dies, aged 95.