Revolutionary hero and anti-apartheid icon, Nelson Mandela is among the most famous and well-respected political activists of all time, and after serving 27 years in prison, he became South Africa’s first democratically elected Black president in 1994.
From his earliest days as a descendant of South African royalty, the Thembu Kingdom to his activism against racism and apartheid in South Africa, Mandela and his heroism has literally created history for more than 75 years. But even international icons such as Mandela have little-known facts in their backgrounds.
Few lives have been thoroughly chronicled as that of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who passed away on 5 December 2013 at the age of 95.
Below is a Nelson Mandela timeline outlining some of the key events in his life.
Parents: Father: Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, Mother: Nonqaphi Nosekeni Fanny. Mandela’s father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, was a local chief in the Transkei region and had four wives, four sons and nine daughters, who lived in different villages. Nelson’s mother was Gadla’s third wife, Nosekeni Fanny, who was daughter of Nkedama of the Right Hand House and a member of the amaMpemvu clan of Xhosa.
Nelson Rholihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela, the son of Chief Mphakanyiswa (Gadla) kaMandela kaNgubengcuka kaNdaba kaZondwa kaTato kaMadiba kaHala kaDlomo kaNxeko ka(Mboti?) kaNtande kaToyi kaCeduma (Cedwini) kaDunakazi kaBhomoyi kaThembu kaNtongakazi kaMalandela kaNjanya kaMbulali kaZwide…!
Clan Names (Iziduko): Dlomo, Madiba, Yem-Yem, Vela bambhentsele, Sophitsho, Ngqolomsila, Tubhana, Qhumpase, Ntande, MThembu, Ncikoza, Mtshikilana, Malangana, Bhomoyi! MThembu obhuzu-bhuzu. UNontsedwane, ooMaqath’alukhuni, ongengomXhosa, onguMThembu, kodwa ethethisiXhosa.
Date of Birth – July 18, 1918: Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela is born in Transkei, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. A member of the Madiba clan. Nelson Mandela was born into the royal Thembu family. His tribal name, “Rholihlahla,” means “troublemaker.” He is later given his English name, Nelson, by a teacher at his school. Mandela was baptized a Methodist. By the time of Rholihlahla’s birth in 1918:
- Most of Black South Africans’ land had been legally stolen for 5 years through the Native Land Act of 1913.
- The ANC was 6 years old, having been started in 1912 as a result of the Land Act that was about to be legalised, and many other injustices to African people. Born in the mind of Pixley ka Isaka Seme having realised that all Black Africans had a common enemy, the white European settlers and that all African had to come together, united against this enemy and put aside their tribal differences.
- The Union of South Africa was 8 years old (A union of Afrikaaners & British settlers that had fought in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 – 1902), uniting for the control of the Economy of South Africa and oppression of the indigenous people, led by Louis Botha then General Jan Smuts.
- It had been 24 years since Pondoland, one of the last native lands to fall under British control, in 1894.
- It had been 34 years since the passing of King Ngangelizwe in 1884, the grand-father of Thembu Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, who later became Rholihlahla’s guardian, after the passing away of Chief Mpakanyiswa
- The Xhosa people had lost their independence for 40 years (having lost their independence in 1878/9 to British settlers, after the last “Frontier War”)
- It had been 62 years since the unfortunate incident of Nongqawuse & Cattle Killings of 1856 which led to Black people having to seek employment from the white European settlers for the first time in their lives to survive. A pattern that still continues to this day. Before then, most Black people were self-employed, they had vast amounts of land to plough and feed their families, and had vast food reserves, should there be a drought or any other natural disaster.
- It had been 83 years since the beginning of a systematic conquest of AbaThembu (Tembus), AmaMpondo (Pondos), AmaBhaca, AmaMfengu (Fingoes) and Xhosa communities in what came to be known as the Transkei and Ciskei by British commander Harry Smith and the eventual killing of King Hintsa ka Khawuta.
- The Zulu Kingdom was 102 years old, as it was started by Shaka kaSenzangakhona kaJama kaNdaba in 1816.
- It had been 139 years since the beginning of “Fronteir Wars” or Wars of Resistance to white settlers invading the land of the Southern Nguni people…
1919: His father is dispossessed of his land and money on the orders of a white magistrate after his refusal to obey an 1927: Nelson Mandela was 9-years-old when his father died of a lung disease. The acting chief of the Thembu clan, Jongintaba Dalindyebo becomes his guardian and ensures he receives an excellent education 1934: Mandela went through the ancient Xhosa Tradition of initiation at the age of 16, a tradition that marks the transition from being a boy to manhood. He was then given his name, Dalibhunga. Dalibhunga means founder of the council, or convener of the dialogue. Convening a space for dialogue for purposes of turning adversaries into allies is one of Dalibhunga’s greatest achievements.
Earliest known-photo of Nelson Mandela at Healdtown College 1937-1938 photo by Ardon Bar/Hama
1937: Moves to Healdtown attending the Wesleyan college in Fort Beaufort. 1939: Nelson Mandela enrolls in University College of Fort Hare. Studied for a B.A. and met his lifelong friend Oliver Tambo. 1940: Nelson Mandela expelled from Fort Hare due to his involvement in a boycott of the Students’ Representative Council against the university policies. Moves to Johannesburg to escape an arranged marriage and experiences the system of apartheid which forbade the black population to vote, travel without permission or own land. Worked as a guard at a mine and then clerk at a law firm. 1942: Nelson Mandela earns a bachelor’s degree via correspondence through the University of South Africa 1943: Nelson Mandela begins studying for law degree at University of Witwatersrand whilst living in Alexandra. Joins the African National Congress (ANC) as an activist 1944: Forms the Youth League of the ANC with Ashley Peter Mda, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu with Anton Lembede as the first President. Marries his first wife Evelyn Ntoko Mase. 1945: Nelson Mandela and Evelyn Mase celebrate the birth of their first child, Thembekile. The couple had three children but the marriage breaks up in 1957 as his political activism was intensifying. 1948: South African government (Afrikaner-dominated National Party) limits the freedom of black Africans even more when the apartheid policy of racial segregation is introduced across the country, after the National Party won the elections & DF Malan becoming President of the country.
1951: Nelson Mandela elected president of the African National Congress Youth League, which he’d co-founded in 1944.
1952: Nelson Mandela convicted of violating the Suppression of Communism Act and sentenced to nine months in prison; founded the first black law firm in South Africa’s history with fellow lawyer Oliver Tambo providing free or low-cost legal counsel to many blacks who would otherwise have been without legal representation. Mandela was prominent in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign.
1955: Freedom Charter adopted at the Congress of the People, in Kliptown, Soweto calling for equal rights and a program of the anti-apartheid cause.
December 5, 1956: Accused of conspiring to overthrow the South African state by violent means with 155 other political activists and charged with high treason. The Treason Trial of 1956–61 follows and all were acquitted.
1957: His marriage of 13 years to his first wife Evelyn Ntoko Mase breaks up due to his increased political activism.
1958: Divorces Evelyn Ntoko Mase and marries Nomzamo “Winnie” Madikizela, a social worker, and the couple have two daughters. Their marriage ended in separation in April 1992 and divorce in March 1996.
1959: Parliament passes new laws extending racial segregation by creating separate homelands for major black groups in South Africa. The ANC loses most of its financial and militant support when members break away to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) under Robert Sobukwe and Potlako Leballo.
1960: Sharpeville Massacre: Police kill 69 peaceful protestors and the ANC is banned. Mandela goes into hiding and forms an underground military group with armed resistance. Though Mandela rejected violence, he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe 1961: South Africa becomes a Republic on May 31 and Queen Elizabeth II is stripped of the title Queen of South Africa and Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd intensifies apartheid. Mandela issues a call to arms and becomes the ANC leader of the newly formed Umkhonto we Sizwe a guerrilla movement at the All-In African Conference as its “Volunteer in Chief” in 1961. Its founding represented the conviction in the face of the massacre that the ANC could no longer limit itself to non-violent protest; MK launched its first guerrilla attacks against government installations on 16 December 1961 as a form of retaliation to the Apartheid government. August 5, 1962: Arrested after living on the run as the “Black Pimpernel” for seventeen months and was imprisoned in the Johannesburg Fort, where the Constitutional Court of South Africa now sits.
October 25: Nelson Mandela was sentenced to five years in prison but again goes on the run.
October 1963: Charged with sabotaging the government.
June 12, 1964: Captured and convicted of sabotage and treason, Nelson Mandela is sentenced to life in prison at the age of 46, initially on Robben island where he would be kept for 18 years. Mandela was also held at Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison during his 27 year sentence. Mandela’s eyesight was permanently damaged from sun glare while being forced to work in prison without sunglasses.
1965: Rhodesia gains its independence from the British and only whites are represented in the new government
1968: His mother dies and his eldest son, Thembi, is killed in a car crash but he is not allowed to attend either of the funerals.
1974: Rhodesia is expelled from the United Nations due to its policy of apartheid
1976: Over 600 students are killed in protests in Soweto and Sharpeville. Steve Biko, who had stepped-in to fill the leadership vacuum left by the banning of the ANC, PAC & other parties, and the arrest of other leaders, including Mandela, played a big role during this time, inspiring the youth to stand up against oppression.
1977: Steve Biko, leader of the protest movement, is killed while in police custody
1980: The exiled Oliver Tambo launches an international campaign for the release of his friend. Zimbabwe gains its independence & Robert Mugabe its President. President Ronald Reagan considered Mandela a communist terrorist and worked against the African National Congress.
1983: The government allows farmers to re-arm and protect themselves from black dissidents
1984: Government sources declared that since 1983, black dissidents have murdered 120, mutilated 25, raped 47 and committed 284 robberies
1985: Nelson Mandela turns down offer from South African President PW Botha to leave prison on condition that he ‘”unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon”. Mandela spurned the offer, releasing a statement through his daughter Zindzi stating “What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people [ANC] remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.” When Stevie Wonder dedicated to Mandela his 1985 Oscar Award for the song “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” Wonder’s music was banned by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
1986: Sanctions against South Africa tightened costing millions in revenue Dec. 7, 1988: Nelson Mandela moved from Pollsmoor Prison to Victor Verster Prison, where he’s held in a cottage for 14 months
1988: Amnesty is announced for all dissidents – 122 surrender.
Feb. 2, 1990: South African government lifts ban on ANC
Feb. 11, 1990: President De Klerk lifts the ban on the African National Congress (ANC). Nelson Mandela released after 27 years in prison. The ANC and the white National Party begin talks on forming a multi-racial democracy for South Africa. In the days following his release from prison in 1990, Mandela stayed at the home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
1991: Nelson Mandela becomes President of the African National Congress (ANC). The International Olympics Committee lift a 21 year ban on South African athletes competing in the Olympic Games. Mandela appeared in the 1992 film “Malcolm X.” Tours USA. April 1992: Separates from Winnie Mandela after she is convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to assault
Dec. 10, 1993: Nelson Mandela and Mr. de Klerk are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
April 26, 1994: Free Elections where black South Africans are allowed to vote for the first time. Nelson Mandela runs for President. The ANC won 252 of the 400 seats in the national assembly
May 9, 1994: Nelson Mandela becomes South Africa’s first democratically elected black president. He appoints de Klerk as deputy president and forms a racially mixed Government of National Unity.
Watch Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inaugural Address Below:
1995: South Africa hosts the 1995 Rugby World Cup and South Africa wins. Nelson Mandela wears a Springbok shirt when he presents the trophy to Afrikaner captain Francois Pienaar. This gesture was seen as a major step in the reconciliation of white and black South Africans
July 6, 1995: Nelson Mandela receives Honorary Doctorate from Seoul National University
March 1996: Nelson Mandela divorces Winnie Mandela
July 18, 1998: On his 80th birthday, Nelson Mandela marries Graca Machel, his third wife and the widow of the former president of Mozambique, and ally on South Africa’s freedom struggle, Samora Michel, who had died 12 years earlier.
1999: Nelson Mandela steps down as South Africa’s president after one term in office in favor of Thabo Mbeki, who was nominated ANC president in 1997. Tours the world as a global statesman
2000: Appointed as mediator in the civil war in Burundi
2001: Nelson Mandela is diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer with radiation. Prior to his death, he was the only living person to be made an honorary Canadian citizen.
2003: Attacked the foreign policy of U.S. President George W. Bush. Later that same year, he lent his support to the 46664 AIDS fundraising campaign. The initiative was named after his prison number
June 1, 2004: Nelson Mandela officially announces that he would be retiring from public life at the age of 85.
July: Flew to Bangkok to speak at the XV International AIDS Conference.
July 23: Johannesburg bestowed its highest honor by granting Nelson Mandela the freedom of the city
January 6, 2005: His son, Makgatho Mandela died of AIDS
July 11, 2010: Nelson Mandela appears at the World Cup in Soweto
July 18, 2012: Nelson Mandela marks his 94th birthday in Qunu, Eastern Cape
June 8, 2013: Nelson Mandela hospitalized with a lung infection, said to be in “very serious” condition.
December 5, 2013: South African President Jacob Zuma announces that former President of South Africa and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela had left the world a dimmer place with his passing.
Watch A Short Bio On Nelson Mandela’s Life Below:
Currently: Most black South Africans think that they are really true “FREE”, since most of the segregative & restrictive laws of the Apartheid regime are no more. They think that the STRUGGLE is over… This thought usually comes as a result of not having a proper background to the STRUGGLE and the role that Nelson Mandela played in it. Well, the struggle is far from over. To this day, more than 80% of South Africa’s land is still in white European settlers’ hands & control, not all of them though, but a few males who own a vast majority of South Africa’s rich land. The economy of the country is still in the hands of white monopoly capital, while the majority of black South Africans are still poor, and those are employed don’t realise that they are just a pay-check or two away from poverty. Principles that Africans people valued and used, such a Food reserves, are today nothing but just something in history. During the days of real independence of African people, actually, until recently, there would be enough maize & sorghum stored in reservoirs to last at-least a year. Whereas today the whole nation is at the mercy of big retailers, who control the food industry.
The struggle begun in 1652, when the first European settlers came into South Africa. This STRUGGLE has been fought by some of the bravest sons & daughters Africa has ever seen. King Hintsa of the Xhosa died in battle in 1835 fighting in this STRUGGLE. King Sekhukhune of the Pedi people fought bravely against colonisation & daily light robbery of the African land. King Cetshwayo of the Zulu Kingdom fought like a lion that he truely was, ISILO! and gave the British a scarce they’ll never forget when his warrior defeated the British soldiers in the battle of Isandlwana in 1879. Unfortunately the victory was short lived, as the British came back with more force and crushed the mighty Zulu Empire at the Battle of Ulundi the very same year. This event is so important because it officially signalled the beginning of the darkest period in the history of African people in the south of the continent. The Honourable Chief Nelson Mandela took the STRUGGLE baton from these warriors and did his very best with his comrades. They indeed did finally achieve victory in the battle of Apartheid, but the war is not yet won. The land is still in the hands of the minority of the land, and the majority, which is Black people are still living is squalor. It was because of this very reason that Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo all agreed to pass on the baton, and that “It in your hands”.