Some become a leader, and some are born to be a leader. They are born with a certain quality to perceive the world around them differently. It is because of this reason they can understand the people around them differently and understand what they need.
Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
The true quality of a leader is to become the voice of the voiceless and the defender for the defenceless. Nelson Mandela was such leader who would change the world forever for his country and inspire generations around the world.
In this world where black-skinned people were always the victim of oppression, Mandela dared to change this forever. But who was this revolutionary figure, and how did he start his journey?
Who Was Nelson Mandela?
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born Rolihlahla Mandela on 18th July 1918. With all his work throughout his life, he became one of the most well-known South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politicians, and philanthropists. He was also the first president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.
In a country and world where black-skinned people are always deprived of the most prestigious positions of Politics, he became the country’s first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election.
He knew the curse of racism that his people had long been facing, and thus, with his elected government, he focused on dismantling the cruel legacy of apartheid and destroying institutionalized racism. Being an African nationalist and socialist, he also held the post of president of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1991 till 1997.
He was born into the royal family of Thembu in Mvezo, Union of South Africa. From a very early age, he was aware of the various social stigmas prevailing in society. He decided to work towards the salvation of his people from all these stigmas, and due to this, he even served 27 years in prison, where his jail-time was split between Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison, and Victor Verster Prison. It was in 1990, due to the pressure caused by the growing domestic and international pressure and fears of racial civil war, then-President F. W. de Klerk decided to release him. He then collaborated with de Klerk, and their combined efforts to negotiate an end to apartheid led to the 1994 multiracial general election. Here, Mandela was victorious along with the ANC, and he became president.
This gave him a chance to come up with a new constitution with which he emphasized the reconciliation between the country’s racial groups. He went on to create the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate all the past human rights abuses. Mandela used the economic framework of his predecessor’s over his own socialist beliefs, but he ensured introducing various measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty, and enhance healthcare services.
Internationally, Mandela’s significance as a political figure was quite a thing as he acted as the mediator in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial. He had also served as secretary-general of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999. During the second presidential term, he declined and was succeeded by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. Later, he remained an elder statesman and focused his time on combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through his foundation known as the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
For all his life’s work, he was regarded as an icon of democracy and social justice. Throughout his life, he has received more than 250 honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize. In South Africa, he is and will always be held in deep respect, and the people of this country refer to him by his Thembu clan name, Madiba, which can also be described as the “Father of the Nation”.
Here, I am trying to trace his early life as a form of an autobiography.
On The Road To Becoming Madiba…
I was told that I was born on 18 July 1918 in the village of Mvezo in Umtata. Back then, it was a part of South Africa’s Cape Province. I was given the forename Rolihlahla in my childhood, a term of my clan Xhosa which meant “troublemaker”.
My patrilineal great-grandfather, Ngubengcuka, was king of the Thembu people in the Transkeian Territories of South Africa’s modern Eastern Cape Province. One of his sons was named Mandela, he was my grandfather, and that’s how I had got my surname. But there was more to this since I was the king’s child by a wife of the Ixhiba clan; there was a different rule to my so-called “Left-Hand House”. According to this rule, the descendants of this cadet branch of the royal family were morganatic. Thus, there are ineligible to inherit the throne but will always be recognized as hereditary royal councilors.
My father was named Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa Mandela. He used to work as the local chief and councilor of the monarch. My father was appointed to the position amid troubled times as his predecessor was accused of corruption by a white governing magistrate. But later, in 1926, he was also sacked for corruption; however, being a son, I was told a different story, a story where my father had lost his job for standing up to the magistrate’s unreasonable demands.
Being a devotee of the god Qamata, my father was a polygamist with four wives, four sons, and nine daughters, living in different villages. My mother was his third wife. Her name was Nosekeni Fanny; she was the daughter of Nkedama of the Right Hand House, who was also a member of the amaMpemvu clan of the Xhosa.
My early life was dominated entirely by traditional Thembu custom and taboo. I had spent my childhood growing up with two sisters in his mother’s kraal in the village of Qunu. There, I used to tend herds as a cattle boy and spent my free time outside with other boys. Despite my parents being illiterate, my mother had sent me to a local Methodist school when I was about seven years old. There I was Baptised as a Methodist, and as a part of the ritual, I was given the English forename “Nelson” by my teacher. When I was around nine years old, I came to stay at Qunu, but unfortunately, he died of an undiagnosed ailment. However, I thought that it had to be lung disease. Probably it was from my father that I had inherited “proud rebelliousness” and “stubborn sense of fairness”.
It was my mother who had taken me to the “Great Place” palace at Mqhekezweni, and there she had left me with the guardianship of the Thembu regent, Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo. I couldn’t meet my mother again for many years. But I was lucky since Jongintaba and his wife Noengland treated me just like their own child.
I attended church services every Sunday with my guardians, and slowly Christianity became a significant part of his life. I was also enrolled in a Methodist mission school located next to the palace. There I studied English, Xhosa, history, and geography. I was engrossed by history and especially African history; I got to know so many things listening to the tales told by elderly visitors. It was around that time when I was very much influenced by the anti-imperialist rhetoric of a visiting chief, Joyi. But I must say that around that time, I never saw the European colonizers as oppressors but as benefactors who were providing education and other benefits to southern Africa.
When I was 16, I traveled with several other boys to Tyhalarha to attend the ulwaluko circumcision ritual. This ritual was special since it marked our transition from boys to men. Around that time, I was given the name Dalibunga.
Later in my life, I had studied law at the University of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand. Afterward, I started working as a lawyer in Johannesburg. But little did I know that my fate had other things as I became involved in anti-colonial and African nationalist politics.
I joined the ANC in 1943 and co-founded its Youth League in 1944. But things turned ugly when the National Party’s white-only government established apartheid. It was a cruel system of racial segregation that would bring privileges to whites only. I and the ANC committed ourselves to overthrow this wicked practice.
Within a short time, I was appointed the president of the ANC’s Transvaal branch, and my involvement in the 1952 Defiance Campaign made me appear a prominent leader. But nothing would always go well as I was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities but unsuccessfully prosecuted in the 1956 Treason Trial.
Marxism also influenced me, and thus, I had secretly joined the banned South African Communist Party (SACP). In my formative years, I never committed to violence, but when the situation was different, I co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961, which had the objective to lead sabotage campaigns against the government. When I was imprisoned in 1962, they sentenced me to life imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the state. But as fate had in store, I was out after 27 years and started my work again!
After suffering from a respiratory infection for a long time, Nelson Mandela died on 5th December 2013 when he was 95, at around 20:50 local time at his home in Houghton, surrounded by his family members. That day, the world had lost one of its evergreen leaders!
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