Father Of Freedom
He dedicated 67 years of his life to the service of humanity and became one of the world’s most revered men. As Tata Mandela celebrates his 94th birthday, we discover more about the man behind the legacy
‘I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances,’ Nelson Mandela once said. Even when he admits that he too has flaws, one can’t deny that Mandela’s humility is just another attribute that makes him the role model he is today.
Madiba’s traditional Xhosa name, Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela, means ‘troublemaker’, the significance only becoming apparent when he took on the fight against the apartheid government. Mandela was raised in the Transkei as part of the Madiba Xhosa tribe (which is why he is referred to as Madiba) and was the first member of his family to attend school. At the Methodist Missionary School his teacher gave him the Western name that would become one of the most famous names of all time: Nelson Mandela.
Learning To Lead
At 19, Mandela enrolled at South Africa’s first university for black students, The University of Fort Hare, where he met lifelong friend and fellow freedom fighter Oliver Tambo. He also took up boxing – a hobby that proved to be vital in shaping his mind for his political career. ‘I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it. I was intrigued by how one moved one’s body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself over a match,’ he said in his autobiography Long Walk To Freedom.
After Mandela was expelled from Fort Hare for political activism, he completed his law degree while working full-time as a clerk at a law firm. He and Oliver Tambo then started South Africa’s first black legal firm that provided free advic ‘We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference’ to Africans. In 1944, they formed the ANC Youth League, and Mandela became the organisation’s first president. From there, Mandela’s political career was a trying one that included 27 years of imprisonment, until he finally became our first democratically elected president in 1994.
Even though Mandela dedicated most of his life to fighting for SA’s freedom, he also made room for love. He has been married three times: from 1944 to 1957 to Evelyn Ntoko, from 1958 to 1996 to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and on his 80th birthday in 1998, he married Graça Machel. He has six children, 20 grandchildren and a growing brood of great-grandchildren. Mandela’s eldest son, Makgatho, died tragically of Aids in 2005, and it was this event that inspired him to start the 46664 campaign.
Mandela officially retired from public life in 2003, yet still manages to inspire the nation on a daily basis. As he once said: ‘We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference.’ May Madiba’s words and his 67 years of worthy actions be the inspiration behind your Mandela Day on 18 July.