by Oluseun Onigbinde
Rolihlala Mandela (who was later named Nelson by his first class teacher), the paragon of the African National Congress, was not yet born when the organization he would personify was founded. He was the bearer of the dream – the same dream that rang from the streets of Alabama, the shores of Freetown and the gold mines of Witwatersrand.
Born on 18th of July 1918 in Umata, a village, 550 miles from Johannesburg. Nelson, was inducted into membership of the Xhosa manhood after he was circumcised at 16. In his early years, he mostly lived through observation as acknowledged by him, he was a witness to the imperial rule of British government. He was the son of a chief and a kingmaker, Henry Mphankanyiswa, who needed approval of the establishment to fulfill his customs and rituals. Henry in a characteristic manner lost his title, land, fortune and herd when he was engaged in a communal fight leaving him and his four wives to accept a less opulent lifestyle. In a family of one, husband, four wives and thirteen sons, Nelson was the eldest child of his mother but as the youngest son who also minded the sheep, typical of the Biblical David, he would personify the guts and glory yet to come.
Nelson lived with his mother in Qunu prancing around his mother’s three huts, learning through the rituals and he kept observing the signs of the age as whites led in the spheres of commerce, clergy and the courts. Stepping out of the family tradition of obeisance to the spirits of Xhosa, Nelson was later baptized as a Methodist. His father had acknowledged his decided to “sacrifice” his son to the British culture, affording only him education among his sons. His future role as an educated person was to be counselor to the Sabata chiefdom. Years later, he watched his father die of severe coughing in his mother’s hut after he fell sick from a normal visit.
Moving from Qunu, his mother’s place in Mqhekezweni, Nelson beheld democracy as entrenched in his traditional customs. He experienced the efficacy of Christianity and gradually he began the march on the path of his vocation. Nelson proceeded to Clarkebury wearing his first pair of shoes at the age of sixteen. Nelson had an untypical start to his South African life, uncommon to the black race in times as others could not further education. After spending two years in Clarkebury instead of three, Nelson at 19 proceeded to Wesleyan College roughening his body with the rigorous schedule of the school. After completion of his University education , he returned back to Mqhekezweni where he fully assumed his role as the counselor to the Regent. When the Regent decided to marry him a bride according to customs, Nelson fled to Johannesburg to start a new chapter of life. As a black, crossing from a magistrate to another which required passes, travelling documents, permit and letter of employment, he experienced the anguish of his times.
In Johannesburg, Mandela met his kinsman, Walter Sisulu, marking the beginning of a life long friendship. Gradually, he was indoctrinated into communism that resonated with the blacks as a bag of hope to aspire to equal status within the society. Taking inspiration from the non-violence stand of Mathama Ghandi, the African National Congress, got its swag back with the election of charismatic Albert Luthli in 1952. “Freedoom will be earned via the Cross” was the abiding creed of Albert Luthuli and the young courageous men that were to lead a society out of the imperial shackles.
But having started his firm as a lawyer in South Africa under an unequal system, the frustrations of Mandela reworked his convictions that non-violence was not the answer. Hiding in surbubs, running rings around the police as he distributed banned literature, he rose in his career with his lifetime buddy, Oliver Tambo.
Gradually, losing impact at home with Evelyn his first wife giving him an ultimatum to choose between his destiny and marriage, the huge burden of the struggle, Nelson at 38 in 1955 and then at the helm of ANC, was confined to Johannesburg for two years. He would land another five years travel restriction in 1956 which also prohibited him from attending meetings. In the same year, he was arrested with 156 others and was charged with an attempt to overthrow the Boers’ government. When he came back after spending two weeks in prison, his first wife had packed out, leaving with their children.
In the midst of the thorny struggle, Nelson met his second wife, Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela (Winnie) a social worker and firm believer in the freedom course. They tied the knot on June 14, 1958. With the trial lasting for over two years, Mandela regained freedom in the midst of escalating violence in Sharpville and segregation through the Bantu system. Ensconcing in a South Africa justice system roughly delinked from the racist system, Madiba gained freedom lighting up the scene.
Hiding behind a name ‘David Motsamayi,’ Mandela was able to travel across Africa with stops in Tanzania, Zambia, Ethiopia , Senegal, Ghana which were meant to seek a Pan-African support for the freedom struggle. Nelson Mandela was arrested few weeks after his entry and the seizure of the six-page Action documents, retrieved after the state raided their abode in Rivonia. Incriminating evidence by the state showed Mandela’s writing on the formation of the violent outreach, Umkhonto we Sizwe. After rigorous cross-examination by Yutar, on June 12, 1964, Judge De Wet handed Nelson Mandela a court sentence of life imprisonment.
He was moved to Robben Island where he lived for around 20 years before being relocated to Pollsmoor. Living in poor conditions whilst also working in the quarry, he took solace in the sparse visits of his wife, Winnie Mandela, books and long letters to his beloved. While in prison, he lost his mother and also his cherished counsel, Bram Fischer, an Afrikaneer who acted in anti-thesis to the establishment. In 1984, Nelson Mandela was moved to Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison with the Boer’s government facing backlash all over the world. The violence in the country did not pause as citizens were inflicted.
After the resignation of P.W Botha which ushered new progressive talks with F.W De Klerk, Madiba was released. On February 11, 1990 after spending 9,375 days under restriction, Madiba walked free under an open sky. With shouts reverberating the atmosphere and a flush of ecstasy, Nelson Mandela spoke in his ANC-esque language calling for the freedom of blacks. He announced separation from his wife on April 13, 1992. Managing the ecstasy of the black citizens who wanted freedom on the quick run and also the brawls with Buthelezi camp, Nelson Mandela cut a figure that could instill equilibrium with his mien as well as the respect he commanded. On May 10, 1994, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first South Africa President.
He was awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize and also had streets, statue and buildings named after him around the world. On his 80th birthday, Nelson Mandela married a third wife, Graca Machel, a former wife of late Samora Machel, the first President of independent Mozambique. Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013.
Winnie Mandela, Graça Machel, his two living daughters – Zenani and Zindziswa -, 17 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, survives him. Nkosi Sikelel’ iMadiba (God Bless Madiba).