Biography: Nelson Mandela
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (Xhosa pronunciation: [xoˈliːɬaɬa manˈdeːla]; born 18 July 1918) served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and was the first South African president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Before his presidency, Mandela was a militant anti-apartheid activist, and the leader and co-founder of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). In 1962 he was arrested and convicted of sabotage and other charges, and sentenced to life in prison. Mandela served 27 years in prison, spending many of these years on Robben Island. Following his release from prison on 11 February 1990, Mandela led his party in the negotiations that led to democracy in 1994. As president, he frequently gave priority to reconciliation, while introducing policies aimed at combating poverty and inequality in South Africa.
Nelson Mandela belongs to a cadet branch of the Thembu dynasty, which reigns in the Transkei region of South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. He was born in Mvezo, a small village located in the district of Umtata. He has Khoisan ancestry on his mother’s side. His patrilineal great-grandfather Ngubengcuka (who died in 1832), ruled as the Inkosi Enkhulu, or king, of the Thembu people. One of the king’s sons, named Mandela, became Nelson’s grandfather and the source of his surname. However, because he was only the Inkosi’s child by a wife of the Ixhiba clan (the so-called “Left-Hand House”), the descendants of his branch of the royal family were not eligible to succeed to the Thembu throne.
Mandela’s father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, served as chief of the town of Mvezo. However, upon alienating the colonial authorities, they deprived Mphakanyiswa of his position, and moved his family to Qunu. Despite this, Mphakanyiswa remained a member of the Inkosi’s Privy Council, and served an instrumental role in Jongintaba Dalindyebo’s ascension to the Thembu throne. Dalindyebo would later return the favour by informally adopting Mandela upon Mphakanyiswa’s death. Mandela’s father had four wives, with whom he fathered thirteen children (four boys and nine girls). Mandela was born to his third wife (‘third’ by a complex royal ranking system), Nosekeni Fanny. Fanny was a daughter of Nkedama of the Mpemvu Xhosa clan, the dynastic Right Hand House, in whose umzi or homestead Mandela spent much of his childhood. His given name Rolihlahla means “to pull a branch of a tree”, or more colloquially, “troublemaker”.
When Mandela was nine, his father died of tuberculosis, and the regent, Jongintaba, became his guardian. Mandela attended a Wesleyan mission school located next to the palace of the regent. Following Thembu custom, he was initiated at age sixteen, and attended Clarkebury Boarding Institute. Mandela completed his Junior Certificate in two years, instead of the usual three. Designated to inherit his father’s position as a privy councillor, in 1937 Mandela moved to Healdtown, the Wesleyan college in Fort Beaufort which most Thembu royalty attended. At nineteen, he took an interest in boxing and running at the school.
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