Madiba Feature

Nelson Mandela


Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, fondly referred to as Madiba, became a legend in his lifetime. In a worldwide survey done some years ago in which photos of famous people in the world had to be named, Nelson’s photo was, by far, the most recognised, more so than photos of any other world leader or icon.

He was considered to be one of the world’s greatest leaders despite having been incarcerated for 27 years on Robben Island on charges of treason before being freed. His prison number, 46664, is known throughout the world and serves as a symbol and a reminder of a great man who unified South Africa.

But who exactly was he?

Madiba through Zelda’s eyes

Zelda la Grange was Nelson Mandela’s assistant and honorary “white granddaughter” for 16 years, during his presidency and when he retired. She organised his working week and travelled extensively with him on foreign tours and only left him when he retired from public life. Zelda’s name became Zeldina after a state visit to Russia after Mandela learned that President Boris Yeltsin’s wife’s name was Yeltsina. After that 1999 visit, the name Zeldina stuck. Mandela knew what he wanted. He could be tough, on himself too, and was very straightforward. “You knew what was expected of you and, as long as you were doing that, it was very easy to work for him,” she said. While he was president he would sometimes phone Zelda at 2am and think nothing of it. Mandela worked exceptionally hard and expected the same from those around him. Afrikaans became their secret weapon overseas when he didn’t want people to know what he was saying. He had learnt to speak Afrikaans on Robben Island. His favourite people included the then Presidents Bill Clinton, Nicolas Sarkozy, Jacques Chirac, Prime Ministers John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He was also failingly polite to people like Margaret Thatcher, even though she had referred to the ANC as a terrorist organisation. He saw the humour in a number of situations, telling Gordon Brown “we’re very happy to see prime minister Brown and we’re here to remind [the British] that although they colonised us, we have now taken over.” That was his sense of humour. He also enjoyed some light-hearted moments with Queen Elizabeth. Zelda had this to say about Mandela’s penchant for celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, Michael Jackson and the Spice Girls. “I think he was amused and entertained by their fame; he was almost curious in a way, he wanted to see for himself why people were famous. It intrigued him. Naomi was like a granddaughter to him. The fact she offered her celebrity status to support his charitable work was very important and special to him.”


18 July 1918: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is born near Umtata (in the Transkei) as the son of Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Henry Mgadla Mandela, a chief and chief councillor to the paramount chief of the Thembu and a member of the Madiba clan.

1927: Mandela’s father dies. His guardian is Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the acting chief of the Thembu tribe.
1938: Mandela matriculates at Healdtown Methodist Boarding School as part of a very small number of black pupils who matriculated in the country.
1939: While studying for a BA degree at Fort Hare Mandela becomes involved in a boycott against the university’s policies and is forced to leave. He goes back home where an arranged marriage is planned and flees to Johannesburg.
1942: After completing a Bachelor of Arts degree at Unisa, he begins studying for an LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand. He does not complete this degree and starts studying again through the University of London after his imprisonment in 1962 but also does not complete that degree.

1943: Mandela becomes a member of the African National Congress (ANC).
1944: He helps form the ANC Youth League with Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu. He marries Evelyn Mase, Sisulu’s cousin. They have 4 children – one of whom dies as an infant.
1948: The National Party comes to power in South Africa and implements apartheid.
1952: Mandela leads the Defiance Campaign, encouraging people to break racial separation laws. He is convicted under Suppression of Communism Act and is banned from attending gatherings and leaving Johannesburg. With Tambo, he forms the first black law partnership in South Africa. While providing free or cheap legal aid to blacks, Mandela is actively involved in the ANC’s defiance campaign.
1955: Freedom Charter calling for equal rights is adopted at the Congress of the People.
1956: Mandela is one of 156 South Africans charged with treason for their support of the Freedom Charter calling for a non-racial democracy and a socialist-based economy. All are acquitted in 1961.
1958: Mandela marries social worker Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela after divorcing Eveyln in 1957.
1960: 69 protesters are killed by police in Sharpeville. A state of emergency is declared, and the ANC is outlawed.
1961: Helps establish Umkhonto we Sizwe – “Spear of the Nation.”
16 August 1962: He is sentenced to five years’ hard labour after being charged with illegally leaving the country and incitement to strike. He goes on the run. The government declares Winnie Mandela a banned person and restricts her to Soweto.

12 June 1964: Mandela, now 46, is one of eight people found guilty of sabotage after police seized ANC documents that outlined a planned guerrilla campaign. Mandela is sentenced to life imprisonment. He is taken to Robben Island.
1968: Mandela loses his eldest son in a car crash and his mother also dies. He is not permitted to attend either funeral.
16 June 1976: Police fire on a protest in Soweto against an edict requiring blacks to be taught in Afrikaans. Violence erupts across South Africa, leaving hundreds dead. The Soweto Uprising is the start of the anti-apartheid movement.
1985: South African President P.W. Botha offers to release Mandela if he will renounce violence. In a fiery statement read at a rally by his daughter Zindzi, Mandela says the burden falls on the government to dismantle apartheid and grant full rights to blacks.
1989: F.W. de Klerk becomes president and spearheads a series of reforms. He releases Sisulu and four other of Mandela’s co-defendants. Leading anti-apartheid groups accuse Winnie Mandela of complicity in the abduction and assault of a 14-year old black activist. While in the last months of his imprisonment, Mandela obtains his LLB degree through the University of South Africa. He graduates in absentia at a ceremony in Cape Town.

11 Feb 1990: Mandela is released after spending 27 years in prison.
6 Aug 1990: The ANC renounces violence in return for the government’s agreement to free political prisoners.
1991: Mandela is elected president of the ANC. The last major apartheid laws are repealed. The Olympic Games ban on South Africa is lifted.
1992: Winnie Mandela is convicted of kidnapping and as an accessory to assault. She and Nelson separate.
1993: A draft constitution is adopted, opening the way to South Africa’s first all-race election. Mandela and De Klerk receive the Nobel Peace Prize for their role in ending apartheid. Mandela divorces Winnie
10 May 1994: Mandela is inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president.
24 June 1995: In a well-chosen gesture of forgiveness and unity, Mandela appears wearing South African colours at the Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg to congratulate the victorious home team, bringing the overwhelmingly white crowd of 63,000 to its feet chanting “Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!”
29 May 1996: Mandela is granted a divorce from Winnie Mandela. The couple had been separated since 1992.
18 July 1998: Weds Graca Machel, the widowed former first lady of neighbouring Mozambique, on his 80th birthday.
16 June 1999: Mandela retires after one term as president. He turns his attention to peacemaking in other parts of Africa and the world and to fighting AIDS.
2000: Mandela is appointed mediator in the civil war in Burundi.
2001: He is treated for prostate cancer.
2003: Mandela supports the 46664 AIDS fundraising campaign. (46664 was his prison number)
2005: When his son, Makgatho, dies, Mandela says publicly that the cause was AIDS — a powerful show of openness in a country where the disease is largely kept a shameful secret.
18 July 2009: His 91st birthday is declared international Mandela Day by the United Nations General Assembly. This is a worldwide annual event devoted to a day of community service.
11 July 2010: Mandela waves to the crowd at the Soccer City stadium at the World Cup, whose staging in South Africa allowed the country to shine internationally. It is his last public appearance.
5 Dec 2013: Nelson Mandela dies at the age of 95 after battling a recurring lung infection.

Mandela evaded the police during his fight against apartheid by disguising himself, even as a chauffeur. The media referred to him as “the Black Pimpernel” because of his police evasion tactics. “I became a creature of the night. I would keep to my hideout during the day, and would emerge to do my work when it became dark,” he says in his biography, “Long Walk to Freedom.”

THE photo of Zululand Observer Editor in Chief Dave Savides with Nelson Mandela was taken in April 1996. It was taken by then Zululand Observer photographer Tobie Fourie at Richards Bay Airport during Mandela’s first official visit to the city after becoming President. ‘I was honoured to introduce myself to Madiba and also to witness something of his special character,’ recalls Savides. ‘As was his custom (infuriating to his minders), he would stop and greet everyone while they were trying to hurry him on. ‘As he walked off the apron into the building, he stretched his arm to shake hands with a security officer – who rudely slapped it away! He simply smiled and said ‘Bless you’, and walked on unfazed!’

It was an emotional moment watching him from across the room as he gave his speech, when I met the former president briefly when he visited a school outside KwaMbonambi. I cannot remember the exact date or details, but remember it was a long drive and we passed the Owen Sithole College. Madiba arrived by helicopter. He was passionate about education, something that I hold close to my heart as well. Madiba’s strong principles of ubuntu and unity have impacted me, as well as his passion for education, therefore I continue to support various initiatives of social cohesion and empower youth in skills development. ‘He continues to remain my inspiration and icon and I use his example in promoting social cohesion.

THE Aquadene Community Library has dedicated a feature wall in honour of the Nelson Mandela centenary celebrations and to mark International Mandela Day on 18 July. One of Madiba’s great legacies was his contributions to education, and Aquadene Community Librarian Zinhle Buthelezi believes that society can keep Madiba’s legacy alive by promoting a culture of reading and encouraging life-long learning. This month all of Madiba’s books will be on display at the library and community members are invited to revisit Mandela’s long walk to freedom and his life’s journey. Mabida’s centenary celebration coincides with the National Library of South Africa (NLSA) bicentennial anniversary, which marks the 200th anniversary of the country’s oldest library


Nelson Mandela fathered six children with three wives and had 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren at the time of his death. Mandela had four children—two sons and two daughters—with his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, who he married in October 1944. The couple’s first child was Madiba “Thembi” Thembekile,born in 1945. Then, in 1948 Makaziwe Mandela was born. Maki, as she was called, died at nine months of age. In 1950, Makgatho Mandela,a son, and in 1954, their second daughter was born. She was named Makaziwe Mandela in honour of their first baby girl. Three of Mandela’s six children are still living. Makaziwe is the only surviving child from his first marriage. (Madiba Thembekile died in 1969, and Makgatho died in 2005.) After his divorce from Evelyn, Mandela married Winnie Madikizela and they had two daughters: Zenani, or Zeni, in 1959 and Zindziswa (Zindizi) in 1960.


ZULULAND philanthropist and businessman Ishwar Ramlutchman shared a special relationship with the former president Nelson Mandela after meeting him in 2007 at the opening of a school. The following year he was invited to attend Madiba’s 90th birthday party at his home in Houghton. Ramlutchman describes Madiba as a peaceful and loving person, surrounded by a tranquil aura at all times. Their relationship evolved over the years and Ramlutchman drew much inspiration from Madiba’s life. ‘I honoured Mandela with the Sivananda Peace Pillar Award and later made him the Patron of the Sivananda World Peace Foundation. ‘This coming together of both families inspired me to build a children’s home in Qunu at Madiba’s request, which was officially opened in 2009. ‘During this time we shared a special bond as well as with Graca Machel and Mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela, and continued serving the poor through various programmes. ‘We will always cherish and remember the legacy he has left behind, a man that contributed towards peace and stability in South Africa. May his soul rest in peace!

After his death Gordon Brown said in Parliament in the UK: He admired and respected Her Majesty, the Queen. And he told me that he wanted the Queen to invite an African rain princess from his tribe to a reception at Buckingham Palace – and he’d gotten nowhere with the diplomatic channels. So he decided to telephone her personally, and the story goes of the conversation – words that only Mandela could use: “Hello Elizabeth, how’s the Duke?” And while the official minutes say that the Queen was non-committal, he got his way.

Become part of Madiba Day

Mandela Day is celebrated on 18 July and is a worldwide initiative to make the world a better place. It is hoped that this initiative will encourage people to make every day a Mandela Day Mandela Day is about changing the world for the better through positive change in your own life and in your community. Take action against poverty. Mandela said, “It is in your hands to make of our world a better one for all.” Become part of the global movement for good. Become involved this Mandela Day. Be the change you want to see.

In prison, Mandela would read William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus” to fellow prisoners. The poem, about never giving up, resonated with Mandela for its lines “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”



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