Goodbye Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Madiba (1918-2013)
by Okoi Obono
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on the 18th July, 1918 at a remote and tiny village of Mvezo at the banks of the Mbashe River in the district of Umtata. In Xhosa (one of the ethnic nationalities in South Africa), ‘Rolihlahla’ literally means “pulling the branch of a tree”. He died on Thursday the 5th December, 2013 at the age of 95 years.
The Thembu people lived in the foothills of the Drakesberg Mountains and migrated towards the coast in the 16th Century, where they incorporated into the Xhosa Nation. The Xhosa are part of the Nguni people that lived in the temperate south-eastern region of South Africa. The Nguni people are divided into a Northern group- Zulu and Swazi people and a Southern group, that is made up of amaBaca, amaBomyana, amaGcaleka, amaMfemgu, amaMpodomis, amaMpondo, amaSotho, abethembu collectively they constitute the Xhosa nationality of South Africa.
Each Xhosa belongs to a clan. Nelson Mandela was a member of the Madiba clan, named after a Thembu chief who ruled in the Transkei in the eighteenth century. Hence Nelson Mandela was often addressed as ‘Madiba’, his clan name, a term of great respect and honour.
The English or Christian name “Nelson” was given to him on the first day of school. His father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa was a traditional chief by both blood and custom of the Thembu people.
The mother of Nelson Mandela, Nosekeni Fanny was the third wife of Nelson Mandela’s father. Nelson Mandela lost his father when he was 9 years old.
After the death of his father, Nelson Mandela left the Village of Qunu to Mqhekezweni, the provincial capital of Thembuland to live in the Royal residence of Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the acting regent of the Thembu people who became him as his guardian. It was in Mqhekezweni that Nelson Mandela completed his Primary School.
After the completion of his Primary School, Mandela was sent to Clakesberg, a mission school that he attended with Justice, the son of Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo.
At the age of 19, Nelson Mandela moved up the mission school ladder to Healdtown, a Wesleyan foundation at the village of Beaufort in Ciskei. The school was established in 1857.
Mandela climbed up the mission school ladder after he passed matriculation enabling him to gain admission to the South African Native College at Fort Hare at the age of 20 in 1939. It was in Forte Hare that Mandela met Kaizer Daliwonga Matanzima, former chief Minister of Transkei who was later to become his political foe.
It was also in Forte Hare that Mandela met and became a friend of Oliver Tambo (1917-1993). Tambo later became the President of African National Congress from 1966 to 1990 while living in exile in Lusaka, Zambia. In 1952, Mandela and Tambo founded the First Black Law Firm in South Africa.
It was in Fort Hare that Mandela he became involved in the political struggle against the racial discrimination practiced in South Africa. He was expelled in 1940 for participating in a student demonstration.
After his expulsion from Forte Hare, Mandela moved to Johannesburg (known in vernacular as EGOLI-The City of Gold), he completed his course work by correspondence through the University of South Africa and received a bachelor’s degree in 1942.
Mandela then studied law at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He became increasingly involved with the African National Congress (ANC), a multiracial nationalist movement which sought to bring about democratic political change in South Africa. Mandela helped establish the ANC Youth League in 1944 and became its president in 1951.
It was in Johannesburg that Mandela met Walter Sisulu who came to immensely influenced Mandela and played a prominent role in his life so much so that Mandela qualified as a lawyer it was Sisulu who bought his suit. While studying by correspondence in the University of Witwatersrand, Sisulu offered Mandela a job in his estate agency.
It was in the home of Walter Sisulu that Mandela met his first wife, Evelyn Mase and they married in 1944 at the Native Commissioner’s Court in Johannesburg. There was no wedding feast, for they were too poor to afford one. Their first child, a boy was born in 1945. He was named Madiba Thembekile.
In 1957 Mandela divorced his first wife, Evelyn Mase; in 1958 he married Nomzamo Madikizela, a social worker, who became known as Winnie Mandela.
The National Party (NP) came to power in South Africa in 1948 on a political platform of white supremacy. The official policy of apartheid, or forced segregation of the races, began to be implemented under NP rule.
In 1952 the ANC staged a campaign known as the Defiance Campaign, when protesters across the country refused to obey apartheid laws. That same year Mandela became one of the ANC’s four deputy presidents.
In the face of government harassment and with the prospect of the ANC being officially banned, Mandela and others devised a plan. Called the “M” plan after Mandela, it organized the ANC into small units of people who could then encourage grassroots participation in antiapartheid struggles.
By the late 1950s Mandela, with Oliver Tambo and others, moved the ANC in a more militant and radical direction against the increasingly discriminatory policies of the government. He was charged with treason in 1956 because of the ANC’s increased activity, particularly in the Defiance Campaign, but he was acquitted after a five-year trial.
In March 1960 the ANC and its rival, the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), called for a nationwide demonstration against South Africa’s pass laws, which controlled the movement and employment of blacks and forced them to carry identity papers. After police massacred 69 blacks demonstrating in Sharpeville (see Sharpeville Massacre), both the ANC and the PAC were banned. After Sharpeville the ANC abandoned the strategy of nonviolence, which until that time had been an important part of its philosophy. Mandela helped to establish the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), in December 1961. He was named its commander-in-chief and went to Algeria for military training. Back in South Africa, he was arrested in August 1962 and sentenced to five years in prison for incitement and for leaving the country illegally.
While Mandela was in prison, ANC colleagues who had been operating in hiding were arrested at Rivonia, outside of Johannesburg. Those arrested include Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki (father of Thabo President Mbeki) Ahmed Kathrada, Rusty Bernstein, Bob Hepple and Raymond Mhlaba). Mandela was put on trial with them for sabotage, treason, and violent conspiracy. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment on the 11th June 1964 by Judge De Wet.
For the next 18 years he was imprisoned on Robben Island and held under harsh conditions with other political prisoners. Despite the maximum security of the Robben Island prison, Mandela and other leaders were able to keep in contact with the antiapartheid movement covertly. Mandela wrote much of his autobiography secretly in prison. The manuscript was smuggled out and was eventually completed and published in 1994 as Long Walk to Freedom. Later, Mandela was moved to the maximum-security Pollsmoor Prison near Cape Town. Mandela became an international symbol of resistance to apartheid during his long years of imprisonment, and world leaders continued to demand his release.
In response to both international and domestic pressure, the South African government, under the leadership of President F. W. de Klerk, lifted the ban against the ANC and released Mandela in February 1990.
Soon after his release from prison he became estranged from Winnie Mandela, who had played a key leadership role in the anti-apartheid movement during his incarceration.
Although Winnie had won international recognition for her defiance of the government, immediately before Mandela’s release she had come into conflict with the ANC over a controversial kidnapping and murder trial that involved her young bodyguards, Mandela United Football Club. Winnie Mandela was accused of involvement in the murder and kidnapping of a youth activist, Stompie Moeketsi Seipei on the 29th December, 1989. Winnie trial opened on the 4th February, 1991 in Johannesburg’s Rand Supreme Court. Mandela stood by Winnie throughout her trial. He dismissed the trial of Winnie as politically motivated and a plot by the South African Government to drag his family name into the mud.
She was convicted and sentenced to six years imprisonment for kidnapping and accessory to assault on the 13th May, 1991 by Judge Stegmann. In the judgment, Judge Stegmann delivered a devastating indictment of Winnie’s character. The judge described Winnie as “a clam, composed, deliberate and unblushing liar”. However the conviction Winnie later set aside by an Appeal Court. The Mandelas were divorced in 1996.
Mandela, later married, Graca Machel the widow of the post independence Mozambique President (1975-1986), Samora Moises Machel. After keeping his affairs with Graca Machel a closely guarded secret, Mandela broke the ice in February, 1998, when he told a television interviewer that “I’m in love with a remarkable lady. I don’t regret the reverses and setbacks because late in my life i am blooming like a flower, because of the love and support she has given me”.
Mandela, who enjoyed enormous popularity, assumed the leadership of the ANC and led negotiations with the government for an end to apartheid. While white South Africans considered sharing power a big step, black South Africans wanted nothing less than a complete transfer of power. Mandela played a crucial role in resolving differences. For their efforts, he and de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. The following year South Africa held its first multiracial elections, and Mandela became president.
He was inaugurated president on the 10th May, 1994. In his inaugural speech Mandela exhorted South Africans to build a new society from the legacy of apartheid. He went on :
“The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us. We have, at last achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discriminations…We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all south Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity-a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world”.
Mandela sought to calm the fears of white South Africans and of potential international investors by trying to balance plans for reconstruction and development with financial caution. His Reconstruction and Development Plan allotted large amounts of money to the creation of jobs and housing and to the development of basic health care. In December 1996 Mandela signed into law a new South African constitution. The constitution established a federal system with a strong central government based on majority rule, and it contained guarantees of the rights.
Mandela stepped down as President in 2001 after his seven years term expired. He refused to stand for a second term despite pressure exerted on him. This was considered unusual by African standard. As president he maintained a frugal lifestyle. This was also considered unorthodox by African standards.