At the suggestion of one of his fathers friends, Mandela was baptized in the Methodist Church. He went on to become the first in his family to attend school. As was custom at the time, and probably due to the bias of the British educational system in South Africa, Mandelas teacher told him that his new first name would be Nelson.When Mandela was 9 years old, his father died of lung disease, causing his life to change dramatically. He was adopted by Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the acting regent of the Thembu peoplea gesture done as a favor to Mandelas father, who, years earlier, had recommended Jongintaba be made chief. Mandela subsequently left the carefree life he knew in Qunu, fearing that he would never see his village again. He traveled by motorcar to Mqhekezweni, the provincial capital of Thembuland, to the chiefs royal residence. Though he had not forgotten his beloved village of Qunu, he quickly adapted to the new, more sophisticated surroundings of Mqhekezweni.
Mandela was given the same status and responsibilities as the regents two other children, his son and oldest child, Justice, and daughter Nomafu. Mandela took classes in a oneroom school next to the palace, studying English, Xhosa, history and geography. It was during this period that Mandela developed an interest in African history, from elder chiefs who came to the Great Palace on official business. He learned how the African people had lived in relative peace until the coming of the white people. According to the elders, the children of South Africa had previously lived as brothers, but white men had shattered this fellowship. While black men shared their land, air and water with whites, white men took all of these things for themselves.
When Mandela was 16, it was time for him to partake in the traditional African circumcision ritual to mark his entrance into manhood. The ceremony of circumcision was not just a surgical procedure, but an elaborate ritual in preparation for manhood. In African tradition, an uncircumcised man cannot inherit his fathers wealth, marry or officiate at tribal rituals. Mandela participated in the ceremony with 25 other boys. He welcomed the opportunity to partake in his peoples customs and felt ready to make the transition from boyhood to manhood. His mood shifted during the proceedings, however, when Chief Meligqili, the main speaker at the ceremony, spoke sadly of the young men, explaining that they were enslaved in their own country. Because their land was controlled by white men, they would never have the power to govern themselves, the chief said. He went on to lament that the promise of the young men would be squandered as they struggled to make a living and perform mindless chores for white men. Mandela would later say that while the chiefs words didnt make total sense to him at the time, they would eventually formulate his resolve for an independent South Africa.
From the time Mandela came under the guardianship of Regent Jongintaba, he was groomed to assume high office, not as a chief, but a counselor to one. As Thembu royalty, Mandela attended a Wesleyan mission school, the Clarkebury Boarding Institute and Wesleyan College, where, he would later state, he achieved academic success through plain hard work. He also excelled at track and boxing. Mandela was initially mocked as a country boy by his Wesleyan classmates, but eventually became friends with several students, including Mathona, his first female friend.In 1939, Mandela enrolled at the University College of Fort Hare, the only residential center of higher learning for blacks in South Africa at the time. Fort Hare was considered Africas equivalent of the University of Oxford or Harvard University, drawing scholars from all parts of subSahara Africa. In his first year at the university, Mandela took the required courses, but focused on Roman Dutch law to prepare for a career in civil service as an interpreter or clerkregarded as the best profession that a black man could obtain at the time.
In his second year at Fort Hare, Mandela was elected to the Student Representative Council. For some time, students had been dissatisfied with the food and lack of power held by the SRC. During this election, a majority of students voted to boycott unless their demands were met. Aligning with the student majority, Mandela resigned from his position. Seeing this as an act of insubordination, the universitys Dr. Kerr expelled Mandela for the rest of the year and gave him an ultimatum He could return to the school if he agreed to serve on the SRC. When Mandela returned home, the regent was furious, telling him unequivocally that he would have to recant his decision and go back to school in the fall.
For 20 years, Mandela directed peaceful, nonviolent acts of defiance against the South African government and its racist policies, including the 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1955 Congress of the People. He founded the law firm Mandela and Tambo, partnering with Oliver Tambo, a brilliant student hed met while attending Fort Hare. The law firm provided free and lowcost legal counsel to unrepresented blacks.In 1956, Mandela and 150 others were arrested and charged with treason for their political advocacy (they were eventually acquitted). Meanwhile, the ANC was being challenged by Africanists, a new breed of black activists who believed that the pacifist method of the ANC was ineffective. Africanists soon broke away to form the PanAfricanist Congress, which negatively affected the ANC, by 1959, the movement had lost much of its militant support.
In 1961, Mandela, who was formerly committed to nonviolent protest, began to believe that armed struggle was the only way to achieve change. He subsequently cofounded Umkhonto we Sizwe, also known as MK, an armed offshoot of the ANC dedicated to sabotage and guerilla war tactics to end apartheid. In 1961, Mandela orchestrated a threeday national workers strike. He was arrested for leading the strike the following year, and was sentenced to five years in prison. In 1963, Mandela was brought to trial again. This time, he and 10 other ANC leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment for political offenses, including sabotage.Nelson Mandela was incarcerated on Robben Island for 18 of his 27 years in prison. During this time, he contracted tuberculosis and, as a black political prisoner, received the lowest level of treatment from prison workers. However, while incarcerated, Mandela was able to earn a Bachelor of Law degree through a University of London correspondence program.
A 1981 memoir by South African intelligence agent Gordon Winter described a plot by the South African government to arrange for Mandelas escape so as to shoot him during the recapture, the plot was foiled by British intelligence. Mandela continued to be such a potent symbol of black resistance that a coordinated international campaign for his release was launched, and this international groundswell of support exemplified the power and esteem that Mandela had in the global political community.In 1982, Mandela and other ANC leaders were moved to Pollsmoor Prison, allegedly to enable contact between them and the South African government. In 1985, President P.W. Botha offered Mandelas release in exchange for renouncing armed struggle, the prisoner flatly rejected the offer. With increasing local and international pressure for his release, the government participated in several talks with Mandela over the ensuing years, but no deal was made. It wasnt until Botha suffered a stroke and was replaced by Frederik Willem de Klerk that Mandelas release was finally announcedon February 11, 1990. De Klerk also unbanned the ANC, removed restrictions on political groups and suspended executions.
In 1993, Mandela and President de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work toward dismantling apartheid. And due in no small part to their work, negotiations between black and white South Africans prevailed On April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first democratic elections. Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the countrys first black president on May 10, 1994, at the age of 77, with de Klerk as his first deputy.Also in 1994, Mandela published an autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, much of which he had secretly written while in prison. The following year, he was awarded the Order of Merit.From 1994 until June 1999, Mandela worked to bring about the transition from minority rule and apartheid to black majority rule. He used the nations enthusiasm for sports as a pivot point to promote reconciliation between whites and blacks, encouraging black South Africans to support the oncehated national rugby team. In 1995, South Africa came to the world stage by hosting the Rugby World Cup, which brought further recognition and prestige to the young republic.
Mandela also worked to protect South Africas economy from collapse during his presidency. Through his Reconstruction and Development Plan, the South African government funded the creation of jobs, housing and basic health care. In 1996, Mandela signed into law a new constitution for the nation, establishing a strong central government based on majority rule, and guaranteeing both the rights of minorities and the freedom of expression.