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Mandela – 25 years in prison

Twenty five years have passed since Nelson Mandela was arrested at a roadblock near the Howick Falls in Natal on 5 August 1962. He has been in prison ever since.

Today, few people know or remember what he looks like. But he has not been forgotten. The spirit of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela burns on strongly in the hearts of the people.

And so, as a tribute to a great man and a deeply loved leader, we give you the story of Nelson Mandela:


Nelson Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in the village of Qunu, near Umtata in the Transkei. His father, Henry Mgadla Mandela, was a chief of the Tembu people. His mother, Nonqaphi, was Chief Henry’s fourth wife and was known to be a strong and proud woman.

Chief Henry and Nonqaphi must have known something when their son was born. They gave him the Xhosa name “Rolihlahla” ~ – which means “stirring up trouble”.

Mandela was the son of a chief — but he was no different to the other young boys in the village. He looked after the family’s sheep and cattle. And when th e time came to plant, he helped to plough the fields.

At night, after his work was finished, young Nelson loved to sit around the fire with the old people, listening to stories about the “good old days”. He loved the stories about the old heroes of the people best of all — such as Bambata, Makana and Sekukhuni.

When the time came, the young Mandela went to the mission school nearby. From day one, he was a good scholar. He read a lot —and was upset to find that the history books at school did not remember the heroes of the African people.

In 1930, Chief Henry Mandela, knowing he was dying, called for his cousin, Chief David Dalinyebo. “I am giving you this servant, Rolihlahla,” he said. “This is my only son. I can see from the way he speaks to his sisters and friends that his wish is to help the nation. Give him education and he will follow your example.”

After his father’s death Mandela went to live at Mqekezweni, the place of the great chief. At the age of 16, Mandela went to the mountain school where he learned the ways of his people and “became a man”.


Mandela was now a student at Clarkebury College in Transkei. In the school holidays he went back to Mqekezweni. He spent much of this time at the court of Chief Dalinyebo. He loved to listen to the cases and to hear the wisdom of the great Chief. It was at this time that young Nelson Mandela began to dream of becoming a lawyer.

Mandela wrote his matric at Healdtown, a Methodist Church high school. Chief Dalinyebo then sent him to the University College of Fort Hare where he studied for a Bachelor of Arts degree.

At the College Mandela made new friends. One of his new friends was a brilliant young student by the name of Oliver Tambo, who was one year older than Mandela. Tambo came from a very poor family in the village of Bizana in the Transkei. He had won a bursary to study science at Fort Hare.

Mandela, who was tall and handsome, was popular with his fellow students. He was a good sportsman, well known as a “handy” heavyweight boxer. It was not long before he was elected to the SRC.

Mandela never finished his degree at Fort Hare. He was suspended for leading a strike after the Principal took away the powers of the SRC. He returned home — and found that his uncle, Chief Dalinyebo, had a surprise for him.

His uncle had chosen a wife for him. Lobola was paid and the wedding was already planned. Mandela thought about all this — and decided that marriage was not for him. He packed his belongings and fled to Johannesburg. He was 22 years old.


In Johannesburg Mandela stayed with his cousin, Sdumo Mandela. He got a job at Crown Mines. They gave him a knobkierie and a whistle and told him to guard the gate to the workers’ compound.

Mandela did not stay in his first job for long. When he heard that some relatives from home were looking for him, he quickly moved to Alexandra. In Alexandra Mandela first met Walter Sisulu, who was to become one of his closest friend’s and comrade’s. Sisulu, also from the Transkei, was living with his mother in Alexandra. She was a “washerwoman” for white families in the suburbs of Johannesburg.

Sisulu – who had worked as a miner, a factory worker and a “kitchen boy” — was now an estate agent. He offered Mandela a job, with a wage of 2 pounds a month plus commission.

Mandela soon told his friend that he did not really want to work as an estate agent. He wished to study instead. He still wanted to be a lawyer. Sisulu, a true friend, gave him the money to study. Mandela finished his Bachelor of Arts degree by correspondence with the University of South Africa. While he was still a student, Mandela met and married Evelyn Ntoko Mase, a young nurse. They lived together in Orlando, near Walter Sisulu and his young wife, Albertina.

Mandela, now a part time law student at Wits University, got a job at a firm of white lawyers in Johannesburg. Sisulu, meanwhile, had joined the African National Congress. It was not long before he asked his friend to join him.

And so in 1944, the ANC got a new member — a young man by the name of Nelson Mandela.


In the ANC Mandela once again met Oliver Tambo, who was now a teacher at St Peter’s in Johannesburg. Mandela, Tambo and Sisulu became close friends — and together with others like Anton Lembede, started the ANC Youth League.

The Youth League brought new life to the ANC, which had become “a body of gentlemen with clean hands.” It gave the organisation a new direction.

Mandela and his friends worked hard — and learned a lot. It was the time of their political education. In 1949 the Youth League went to the ANC with a Programme of Action. The Youth League said the time of writing letters and petitions to the government was passing. It was time for action.

On 1 May 1950 the police killed 18 people in a Mayday demonstration. On 26 June the ANC called for a stayaway to protest against the shootings. This was the first stayaway ever called by the ANC.

In 1952 Mandela became President of the ANC in the Transvaal. In the same year the ANC called for the Defiance Campaign against the government’s apartheid laws. The ANC was asking its members to break apartheid laws and risk going to jail.

Mandela was chosen as Volunteer-in- Chief of the Defiance Campaign. He travelled round the country telling the people about the campaign. At this time the brilliance of Mandela was beginning to show.

Mandela knew how to talk to the people. When he spoke, he touched their hearts. He was a great organiser, maybe even the best. Mandela was magic.

*You can read the second half of our story on Nelson Mandela in the next magazine. Don’t forget to buy it!


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