Many people wonder what factors make up such a powerful leader and spokesperson as Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. What is it about the Nelson Mandela childhood memories, education and early career that brought this man to believe so deeply in a cause and gave him the ability to see these beliefs through?
Nelson Mandela (born Rolihlahla) entered the world on July 18, 1918 in the small village of Mvezo to a chief named Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa. Colonial authorities deprived Mandela’s father of his chief status and moved his family to Qunu. Mphakanyiswa played a principal role in Dalindyebo’s ascension to the Thembu throne. From the time of Nelson Mandela birth he was exposed to a family of pride. He was the first in his family to attend a school and it was while there that the young Rolihlahla was given the name Nelson.
Nelson Mandela’s father died (of tuberculosis) when the boy was nine years old. He was then put under the guardianship of the regent Jongintaba. As was usual for Thembu royalty he attended a Wesleyan School and College. The bright young Nelson Mandela completed his Junior Certificate in only 2 years rather than 3 before moving onto the College in Fort Beaufort. While he was at college he took an interest in running and boxing.
While attending Fort Hare University (studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree) Nelson Mandella met two men who were to become close friends and influences in his life. One was Oliver Tambo and the other was Kaiser ‘K.D’ Matanzima. Matanzima was in line for the Transkei throne.
Mandela did not complete his Bachelor of Arts degree at the time. After a year he became involved with the Student Representative Council and their boycott against university policies. This is perhaps the first outward representation on record of Nelson Mandela’s political activism. He was ordered to leave the college.
Not long after this Mandela refused an arranged marriage proposal and ‘ran away’ to Johannesburg. He found work there as a guard at a mine, but was dismissed when it was found he was a royal runaway. He then worked as a clerk and completed his degree, (with the University of South Africa), through correspondence. From there he moved on to study law at the University of Witwatersrand. While studying there Mandela was to meet three influential people in his life who also became anti-apartheid activists. They were Harry Schwarz, Joe Slovo and Ruth First.
The young Nelson Mandela was an intelligent boy born into royalty. He understood the meaning of equality and had the opportunity to become well educated. He took up those opportunities and used his knowledge, intelligence and beliefs to fight for equality and justice for not only South Africans but people everywhere