Anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela (Photo: TREVOR SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Each year, 11 February marks the day that lawyer, activist and anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela was released from prison, having served 27 years for the opposition of the apartheid in South Africa.
Following his release, Mandela aided in the negotiations that would bring an end to the apartheid before becoming the first democratically elected President of South Africa.
This is everything you need to know about Nelson Mandela.
Who was Nelson Mandela?
Mandela was born into the Madiba clan in the village of Mvezo, which was part of South Africa’s Cape Province, on 18 July 1918.
He was born as Rolihlahla Mandela, but he is known widely as Nelson Mandela because that was the “Christian” name given to him by his primary school teacher, Miss Mdingane, in Qunu.
Mandela went on to complete his Junior Certificate at Clarkebury Boarding Institute before going on to attend Healdtown, a Wesleyan secondary school. He had begun his studies at the University College of Fort Hare, however did not complete his degree there as he was expelled at the end of his first year for joining in a student protest against the quality of food that was served.
Upon his return to Mqhekezweni, the King told Mandela that if he did not return to Fort Hare to complete his studies, wives would be arranged for himself and his cousin Justice. Instead, the two ran away to Johannesburg instead, where they arrived in 1941.
Mandela took up a job as a mine security officer and, after meeting with estate agent Walter Sisulu, he was introduced to Lazer Sidelsky. He then became an articled clerk at the law firm of Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman. An “articled clerk” refers to someone in Commonwealth countries who is studying to be an accountant or lawyer, and is placed under the supervision of someone already in that profession.
He completed his BA at the University of South Africa, and in 1943, went back to Fort Hare for his graduation.
When did he enter into politics?
In 1944, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) where he helped to form the ANC Youth League (ANCYL).
Throughout the years, he worked his way up through the ranks of the ANCYL and in 1950 took on the role of the ANC national executive. That same year he was elected the national president of the ANCYL.
In 1952 he was selected as the National Volunteer-in-Chief of the Defiance Campaign, with Maulvi Cachalia as his deputy. That year, the ANC began its preparations for a joint Defiance Campaign against apartheid with the South African Indian Congress.
Mandela and 19 others were ultimately charged under the Suppression of Communism Act for their part in the campaign. He was found guilty of “statutory communism” which was a term that the Government used to describe opposition to apartheid.
They were sentenced to nine months of hard labour, suspended for two years.
Mandela’s two year diploma in addition to his BA allowed him to practise law, and in August of that year he and Oliver Tambo established the first black-owned law firm in South Africa in the 1950s, called Mandela & Tambo.
What did he stand for?
Mandela’s lifelong mission was to end apartheid and was known as a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary.
The apartheid was a system of legislation which upheld the racial segregation that existed in South Africa and South West Africa, now known as Namibia.
The apartheid ensured that South Africa’s white population, which was the minority, dominated the political, social and economic landscape. The system saw that white citizens had the highest status.
Petty apartheid entailed the segregation of things like public facilities and social events, and grand apartheid dictated housing and employment opportunities by race.
There were a number of apartheid laws as well, such as the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act 1949, which outlawed marriages between white and non-white citizens, which was closely followed by the Immorality Amendment Act of 1950, which made it illegal for most South Africans to marry or have sexual relationships across racial lines.
The Population Registration Act 1950 also classified all South Africans into one of four racial groups, based on their appearance, ancestry, socioeconomic status and cultural lifestyle - “Black”, “White”, “Coloured”, and “Indian”.
The Group Areas Act of 1950 also established residential and business areas for each race, with members of other races banned from living, operating business or owning land in. Thousands of non-white South Africans were forcibly removed from areas which had been classified as white only. More than 80% of South Africa’s land was eventually set aside for its white minority.
When did he go to jail?
In 1962, Mandela was arrested for leaving the country without a permit and for inciting workers to strike. Upon his conviction, he was sentenced to five years of imprisonment, which he initially began serving at the Pretoria Local Prison.
In 1963, he was transferred to Robben Island before being returned to Pretoria. That year, several of Mandela’s comrades were arrested and he, with 10 others, stood trial for sabotage, in what would come to be known as the Rivonia Trial.
Facing the death penalty, Mandela issued his now famous Speech from the Dock speech on 20 April 1964, in which he said: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.
“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.
“It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
On 11 June 1964, Mandela and seven of the other accused were convicted and the next day were sentenced to life imprisonment.
When was he released?
Mandela was released from prison on 11 February 1990. Throughout his time in prison, he had rejected at least three conditional offers of release.
His release was broadcast live around the world and he was driven to Cape Town’s City Hall through the masses where he issued a speech in which he said: “We have waited too long for our freedom.
“We can no longer wait. Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive.
“The sight of freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts.”
The apartheid system in South Africa was ended between May 1990 and April 1994, following negotiations between the governing National Party, Mandela and the ANC and a number of other political organisations.
When was he President?
On 10 May 1994, Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected President. He promised that he would step down after one term as President, and, true to his word, did so in 1999.
He was succeeded by Mbeki, who was inaugurated on 16 June 1999.
After leaving the presidency behind, Mandela continued to be active in a number of philanthropic pursuits. In 1999, the Nelson Mandela Foundation was founded, which focused on rural development, school construction and combating the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Was he married and did he have children?
Mandela married Walter Sisulu’s cousin, Evelyn Mase, in 1944. Mase was a nurse, and the two of them had two sons together - Madiba Thembekile “Thembi” and Makgatho.
They also had two daughters, both called Makaziwe, however the first of whom did not survive infancy. Mandela and Mase divorced in 1958.
During his treason trial, Mandel married Winnie Madikizela, a social worker, on 14 June 1958. They had two daughters together, called Zenani and Zindziswa. They later divorced in 1996.
On his 80th birthday, in 1998, Mandela married his third wife, Graça Machel, whom he remained married to up until his death.
When did he die?
Mandela suffered from a history of respiratory infections, having first been briefly hospitalised in 2011 and then again admitted in 2012 for a lung infection and gallstone removal.
In 2013, his lung infection came back and he was once again hospitalised in Pretoria. A few months later that same year, his lung infection took a turn for the worse and he was readmitted to Pretoria hospital.
In September of 2013, Mandela was discharged from the hospital, although his condition was described as “at times unstable”.
A statement from his office said: “His team of doctors are convinced that he will receive the same level of intensive care at his Houghton [in Johannesburg] home that he received in Pretoria.”
On 5 December 2013, Mandela died at the age of 95 at his home in Houghton, surrounded by his family.
His death was publicly announced on TV, with 10 days of national mourning proclaimed. A memorial service for Mandela was held at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium on 10 December 2013.
At the time of his death, South African President Jacob Zuma said: “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.
“What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.”
Quotes by Nelson Mandela
“It is not our diversity which divides us; it is not our ethnicity, or religion or culture that divides us. Since we have achieved our freedom, there can only be one division amongst us: between those who cherish democracy and those who do not.”
“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.”
“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”
“The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.”
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
“You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.”
What is Silverton Siege?
Silverton Siege is a new film that has been released internationally by Netflix and is the feature directorial debut of Mandla Dube.
The film is partially based on true events, when, on 25 January 1980, Stephen Mafoko, Humphrey Makhubo, and Wilfred Madela, three armed anti-apartheid freedom fighters, were allegedly on their way to a planned sabotage mission.
After realising they were being followed by police, three escaped into a bank in Silverton, Pretoria, where they held 25 civilians hostage. The trio negotiated a number of demands, one of which was the release of Mandel from prison.
In the end, police stormed the bank and the three men were killed, as well as two hostages who were caught in the shootout.
Silverton Siege is the second film in Dube’s planned trilogy which began with Kaluishi, a 2016 biopic about freedom fighter Solomon “Kalushi” Mahlangu.
Talking to Netflix, Dube said: “The Rivonia Trial [of Nelson Mandela] will complete the trilogy.
“I want to take a break after shooting Silverton Siege to do something that’s very different.”
Dube said that, in the making of the film, he had spoken with one of the hostages from the bank.
He said: “She told me, “Those guys were singing freedom songs, and they taught us how to sing freedom songs. Once we realised, as hostages, that they didn’t come in there to rob the bank, that they were actually fighting for freedom, we were caught between a rock and a hard place because we grew up being taught that there’s this ‘Black danger.’
“The Black terrorists are going to attack us and take our country away from us. And these guys... were not trying to take anything away from us. They were actually fighting for the freedom of all of us,
“Black or white, and we found ourselves rallying behind them.”
“Unfortunately, the government at the time didn’t see things that way, and they just stormed the bank and they shot everybody on sight, including some innocent hostages. Then, obviously, they turned around and blamed it on the freedom fighters.”
The director also said that he has taken factual liberties with the film, such as changing the characters names, adding a character that has albinism and making one of the people involved in the siege female.
He said: “Once that happened, I said to myself, “Let’s have fun. We’re not doing a documentary. We’re doing a thriller,” and all the gloves were off, and we just went to battle to find these characters and to build them and to mould them and shape them into what you see as a final product on the screen.”
Silverton Siege is available on Netflix in the UK to stream now.