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Who was Nelson Mandela, the father of South Africa

Nelson Mandela died on 5 December 2013. “The courage it is not the lack of fear, but the ability to overcome it.” «There is no easy road to the freedom!». «I hate the racism, whether it comes from a white man or a black man.” Dozens of sentences could be cited Mandela. All equally powerful and exciting. All of which take shape and form in the figure of the leader of the fight against Apartheid Born on July 18, 1918and died on 5 December 2013. Madiba’s life was unforgettable, this was the nickname of Nelson Mandela, who spent almost thirty years in prison, won the battle against racial segregation and was the first black president of his South Africa from 1994 to 1999.

Nelson Mandela
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The name

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was his full name. Mandela came from his paternal grandfather. Rolihlahla, which means “he who causes trouble”, was assigned to him at birth, Nelson, at Methodist primary school (he studied within the church and his faith remained always Methodist) by the teacher who found the first too difficult. The nickname Madiba was his name within the ethnic clan Xhosa.


Nelson Mandela was born in Mvezo. The name means nothing to most people. It is a village in south-eastern South Africa, on the banks of the Mbashe River in the Umtata region. Here the mayor has often been a Mandela. From here Madiba fled at the age of 19 together with his cousin. Both were forced into an arranged marriage. He said no and together they went to Johannesburg where Mandela studied law. Here he came into contact with politics detached from his clan. He joined theAfrican National Congress then founding the youth association Youth League. From a village of shepherds to the leader of the country starting from the opposition to the South African regime, which denied political, social and civil rights to the black South African majority.

The political struggle

As a lawyer Mandela became involved in politics. Between the 40s and 50s he founded the legal department with Oliver Tambo Mandela and Tambo providing low-cost care to blacks who couldn’t afford it. In government since 1948 was the National Party, a supporter of racial segregation. From Mandela’s opposition was born the Freedom Charterthe basis of the anti-apartheid cause.

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He was arrested with 150 other people on 5 December 1956 on charges of treason. The trial lasted until 1961 and all were acquitted. In March 1960, after the killing of unarmed demonstrators in Sharpeville and the subsequent banning of the ANC and other anti-apartheid groups, Mandela and his colleagues supported the armed struggle. The arrest that finally brought him to prison dates back to 1963. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for involvement in the organization of armed action and conspiracy for trying to help other countries invade South Africa, a crime to which Mandela has always said he was not involved.


From 1963 Mandela remained in prison for 27 years Robben Island. Free Nelson Mandela, free Nelson Mandela, was the cry of the fight against racial segregation throughout the world. He said no to the release that had been offered to him in 1985 by the President Botha in exchange for renouncing the armed struggle. He never gave up fighting, bringing his party within the socialist international, with inspiration in the Cuban revolution, but always with an openness to dialogue. He remained in prison until February 11, 1990. In prison he read books and poems in Afrikaner and English always wearing a uniform with a number: he was inmate 46664.

Mandela, the words of a life
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Free Mandela

He was the South African president Frederik de Klerk to order his release and the legalization of the ANC, his party. Mandela and de Klerk obtained the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. On Liberation Day Mandela gave a speech from Cape Town’s City Hall, the beginning of national reconciliation. He was the first South African president to be elected by universal suffrage in 1994 and the first non-white.

After the presidency

Having left political life at the age of eighty, Mandela continued the battle for his country and in particular fight against AIDS which had infected hundreds of thousands of people in South Africa. Icon of freedom Madiba was supported by great entertainment personalities such as Naomi Campbell, U2, i Simple Minds with the song Mandela DayRuud Gullit who dedicated the Golden Ball he won in 1987 to him. Since 2010 it has been celebrated on 18 July Nelson Mandela International Day.

At least three films remember him: The Color of Freedom – Goodbye Bafana by Bille August who recounted his relationship with the warder of his cell, Mandela – The long road to freedom of 2013 with the song Ordinary Love of U2 and above all Invictus 2009 by Clint Eastwood with Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in the early years of his presidency.

The sport

Mandela used sport as a glue for his nation to be reborn united. He did it with white sports: the rugby. In the 1995, just a year after his election to the presidency, South Africa hosted the World Cup. He made a success of an event that could have been a battleground. This is also what Eastwood’s film tells about. Madiba had learned about rugby in prison because, so it is said, he needed a stove to keep warm and the prison director only granted it to him after long chats about the oval ball. Instead he loved the soccer and he was still alive in 2010 when his country, the first African state, hosted the World Cup.


Mandela married three times. His first wife was Evelyn Ntoko Mase from whom he divorced in 1957 after thirteen years of marriage. He divorced for another. «I was struck by her beauty the first time I saw her». Madiba wrote it in his autobiography, Long road to freedomof the moment of his first meeting with Winnie Madikizela, then twenty years old. She was waiting for the bus, he passed at the same point. On the first date Mandela, who was nearing 40 and a family man, said he would marry her. And so it was. He remained married to her until 1992, during all his years in prison. It ended due to political conflicts and the troubles of her involvement in the violent struggles against the segregationist government. At eighty, Mandela married Graça Machelwidow of Samora Machel, founding president of Mozambique.

The death

THE DEATH Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013 at his home in Johannesburg at the age of 95; the President of South Africa was the first to announce it, Jacob Zuma, live on television. Already since March 2013 he had been hospitalized several times. Five days later there was the funeral at the Johannesburg stadium with the whole world greeting him including the American president Obama and the Cuban president Raul Castro who shook hands for the first time.


There is a poem by William Ernest Henleis titled Invictus, he who is not conquered, and was associated with Mandela even before Clint Eastwood made it the title of his film about the South African president. He says this: «… I thank whatever god there is for my invincible soul…I am the master of my destiny: I am the captain of my soul». Mandela said that this poem was the main reason he continued to live during 27 years in prison.

Source: Vanity Fair

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