Nelson Mandela – this name reminds us of a person who almost single-handedly led to the demise of apartheid practice in South Africa. Though Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize, he actually resorted to violent means for achieving freedom. 

This man spent almost 3 decades in prison and while being in prison, he graduated in law. In this article, we are going to learn about some interesting Nelson Mandela facts. Hopefully, you will find them useful.

Nelson Mandela Facts: 1-5

1. Nelson Mandela was born on July, 18, 1918 to a royal family of Thembu tribe (who spoke Xhosa language). He was born in a South African village, Mvezo.

2. He was born to Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, the chief of the village and Nosekeni Fanny. When Mandela was 9 years old, his father died.

3. So, Jongintaba Dalindyebo, a regent of high-rank in Thembu adopted Mandela. He was the one that sowed the seeds of leadership in Mandela’s mind.

4. Nelson Mandela is not his original name. His original name is Rolihlahla Mandela, which in Xhosa language meant “to pull the branch off a tree” and it also meant “troublemaker”. Despite the fact that his name was changed, he continued to create troubles for the English people.

5. Mandela’s teacher gave him the name Nelson. The reason behind giving this name is not yet known but it is seen that it was a normal practice in South Africa back then to give kids an English name so that it would be easy for the Englishmen to pronounce. His teacher took Nelson from a British admiral’s name, Horatio Nelson.

Nelson Mandela Facts: 6-10

6. He has other names as well. He is lovingly called Madiba and Mkhulu by South African people. Madiba is the name of his clan. Mkhulu means grandfather in their language.

7. He was the first person in his family to receive proper education. He finished his primary studies in a local missionary school and then joined some other schools where he excelled not only in academics but also boxing.

8. In 1939, he joined University of Fort Hare, which was the only Western-style university in South Africa which allowed Africans to study.

9. Not even a year passed after he joined such an elite university, he was thrown out of the college along with Oliver Tambo (his business partner in future) and other friends for participating in boycotting against policies of the university.

10. He went to Johannesburg when his guardian arranged for his wedding. There he did some petty jobs and studied law. He got his degree in law from University of Witwatersrand. Even there he actively participated in movements which were against racial discrimination and formed good relationships with key black and white activists.

Nelson Mandela Facts: 11-15

11. In 1944, he joined ANC (African National Congress) and with fellow members like Oliver Tambo he started ANCYL (African National Congress Youth League).

12. He started getting more and more involved when he saw that the Afrikaner-dominated National Party won the election in 1948. They, after coming to power, formally introduced the policy of “apartheid”. Apartheid is the racial classification and segregation.

13. Along with Oliver Tambo, he started a law firm which was completely dedicated to the blacks who fell prey to the unjust law (apartheid) either for free or for minimal fees.

14. He actively participated in 1952’s Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign. He also endorsed the “Freedom Charter” manifesto. Congress of People approved it in 1955.

15. Mandela and 155 other activists were arrested on December, 5, 1956 for disloyalty. By the time they were out of the prison, the ANC was split and a radical wing called PAC (Pan Africanist Congress) emerged in 1959.

Nelson Mandela Facts: 16-20

16. In 1960, police opened fire on a peaceful protest in Sharpeville. There were riots everywhere in the country and the government banned ANC and PAC. This was the time when Mandela took a radical and rebel route to get freedom.

17. On 16 December, 1961, he became the co-founder of “Umkhonto we Sizwe”, an armed wing of the ANC. Umkhonto we Sizwe meant “Spear of the Nation” and it was popularly known as MK.

18. Mandela led campaigns and declared South Africa a republic and made South Africa withdraw from the Commonwealth. In 1962, he escaped from his city and travelled to many places which would help him in his journey of freedom.

19. When he returned, he was imprisoned and few of the MK leaders were also arrested and luckily for Mandela, he and some of the MK supporters were sentenced to life imprisonment during the Rivonia Trial, which took 8 months.

20. His nearly three-decade imprisonment starts here and the first 18 years of his imprisonment was spent in a very cruel Robben Island Prison, which was earlier a leper colony. It was present near Cape Town.

Nelson Mandela Facts: 21-25

21. They were treated very brutally. They were made to live in a very small room with no bed and they had to work in lime mine. Sometimes they were punished inhumanely. Mandela was allowed to meet his wife once every 6 months. One such atrocity was that the guards buried them till their neck and peed on them.

22. While he was in prison, he graduated in law from University of London and served as an inspiration for other fellow members and wrote his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom”, which was released 5 years after his release.

23. Though he was in prison he became more and more popular and in 1980, Oliver Tambo started a “Free Nelson Mandela” campaign and due to the pressure from media, people and other countries, the government offered release but with some “conditions.” One such condition was to give up radical and violent ways to achieve freedom.

24. However, Mandela didn’t accept the offer and he was sent to Pollsmoor Prison in 1982 and in 1988, he was put under house-arrest.

25. In 1989, F. W. de Klerk was elected as president and he lifted the ban on ANC. He supported South Africa and in 1990, he ordered the release of Mandela. Mandela was a free man again.

Nelson Mandela Facts: 26-30

26. After his release, he tried to negotiate with many political parties to end apartheid and for the beginning of a multiracial government in South Africa.

27. In December, 1993, Mandela and F. W. de Klerk was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

28. 22 million people of South Africa voted on 26, April, 1994 and with a huge majority Mandela won (for ANC) and de Klerk became his deputy. He was the first black president of South Africa.

29. After he became the president of South Africa, he started the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for human rights and to inspect the violations committed by people (the ones who practiced apartheid and the ones who were victims).

30. He brought in many socio-economic reforms to improve the standard of living of the South African people.

Nelson Mandela Facts: 31-35

31. He played a key role in enactment of the constitution of South Africa in 1996. This led to centralization of the government. The government was to be elected by majority (democracy) but the constitution ensured that there wouldn’t be any discrimination against minorities (whites included).

32. His main motive as president was to improve the relations between whites and blacks, forming a brand-new image of South Africa to the world.

33. For these motives to be fulfilled, he started the “Government of National Unity” which included all the races of South Africa and declared South Africa as a “rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

34. He encouraged blacks and whites to participate in the Afrikaner National Rugby Team in 1995 when South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup.

35. He retired from politics after finishing his tenure in 1999 as the President of South Africa. His deputy, Thabo Mbeki succeeded as the new President of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela Facts: 36-40

36. Though he retired from politics, he actively participated in other campaigns related to justice and peace and was known worldwide.

37. He started many organisations like Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Elders (an independent group of famous people who address global problems and human suffering).

38. He raised his voice against AIDS (Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome) which was prevalent in South Africa and people weren’t aware of the disease.

39. After getting treatment for prostate cancer in 2001, he became weak with other ailments and decreased his public appearances. 18th July was declared as “Nelson Mandela International Day” by the United Nations for his contributions to democracy, social justice, freedom, human rights.

40. He succumbed to death on December 5th, 2013 due to lung infection.

Nelson Mandela Facts: 41-45

41. Nelson Mandela, though spent 27 years of his life in prison, was an ace in disguising himself. He was in a chauffeur’s disguise when he was arrested in 1962.

42. Ironically and fortunately enough, the speech that Nelson Mandela made on the day of trial earned him a lesser punishment of “life imprisonment”. His speech which was published as “I am prepared to die” earned worldwide attention.

43. Even when he was in prison, he contacted other fellow prison inmates to fight for better living conditions in prison. He contacted them by writing messages on empty matchboxes, toilet papers etc. and in this way, he organized a hunger strike and succeeded as well.

44. He played a cameo role in Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X in 1992. He acted as a teacher who was narrating the speech of civil rights activists. However, he didn’t agree to say the ending words “by any means necessary”.

45. If Anthony Sampson, the official biographer of Nelson Mandela, was to be believed, during Mandela’s rule, around 3 million South Africans were connected through telephone and had access to drinking water, 1.5 million children were getting education, 2 million people had access to electricity and 7,50,000 houses were built, which sheltered nearly 3 million people.

Nelson Mandela Facts: 46-50

46. He regretted that he didn’t devote his time to AIDS issues when he was the president. Later, he established 46664 (which was his prison number – he was the 466th prisoner in the year 1964 and so 46664) – a non-profit organization completely dedicated to spreading awareness and preventing AIDS.

47. His son, Makgatho Mandela died of AIDS and he pleaded with the people of South Africa to consider AIDS as a disease and not as a curse where the people who were affected by AIDS, would go to hell.

48. Apart from the Nobel Peace Prize, he won over 250 awards and received honorary degrees from over 50 universities. He was the first living person to receive Canadian Citizenship and the last person to be awarded Lenin Peace Prize by Russia (then “The Soviet Union”).

49. Though there are many streets on Mandela’s name, did you know that biologists named a prehistoric woodpecker as Australopicus nelsonmandelai? If that’s not enough for you, Leeds University’s physicists named a nuclear particle as the Mandela particle.

50. He was listed in USA’s terror watch list till 2008 with his ANC (African National Congress) members because of their armed rebellion against apartheid.

Nelson Mandela Facts: 51-55

51. He was inspired by William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus”. He would read out this poem to his prison inmates and encourage them to “never give up.”

52. CIA (Central Investigating Agency of USA) gave the location of Nelson Mandela to the then South African government in 1962 because of which he was arrested for 27 long years.

53. Mandela was the co-author of the book “How Far We Slaves Have Come” along with Fidel Castro (Cuban Revolutionary and Politician who became the Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976).

54. During the 1980’s, British Parliament had a very strong dislike for him. Some MP’s wanted him to be hanged, some wanted him to be shot. Margaret Thatcher, the first woman PM of Britain, considered him a terrorist.

55. Graça Machel is the only woman to be the first lady of two nations. She was the wife of Samora Machel, President of Mozambique and then she married Nelson Mandela, the President of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela Facts: 56-60

56. Mandela’s handprint resembles the shape of the African continent.

57. One of the first questions asked by Nelson Mandela after his 27-year long imprisonment was whether Donald Bradman, a cricket legend, was still alive or not. He asked this question to an Australian statesman.

58. He once called the Queen of Britain, Queen Elizabeth II by her name and passed a few comments on her weight and her dressing style.

59. Nelson Mandela failed to cry after he was released from prison. Wondering why? That’s because his tear glands were damaged due to the work he was forced to do in the prison.

60. He gave credits to a book (of many books he read and referred) called “The Revolt” by former Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin in helping him plan the guerrilla campaign of ANC against apartheid.


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