Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Umtata, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The son of Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Henry Mgadla Mandela, he came from the Madiba clan and was part of the Thembu tribe. Mandela’s original name, Rolihlahla, roughly translates to ‘troublemaker’. At the age of seven, a White missionary school teacher gave him the name ‘Nelson’.
Mandela’s family held a prominent place among the Thembu people. His father, Mgadla, served as a chief and chief counselor to the paramount chief of the Thembu tribe. However, Mgadla lost his chieftainship, land, and cattle due to a dispute with the local White magistrate. As a result, the Mandela family moved to the village of Qunu.
Care under Jongintaba Dalindyebo
Upon the death of his father in 1930, Mandela was placed under the care of the Paramount Chief of the abaThembu, Jongintaba Dalindyebo. This move changed Mandela’s life significantly, as he was now part of the royal abaThembu family and lived in Mqhekezweni.
Mandela’s education journey started at Clarkebury, where he received his first Western-style education. Later, he attended Healdtown Methodist Boarding School, where he developed interests in boxing, long-distance running, and African culture.
University of Fort Hare
Mandela became the first in his family to attend high school and then went on to the University of Fort Hare. He met many influential figures in the South African liberation struggle while studying at Fort Hare, including Oliver Tambo and Kaizer Daliwonga Matanzima. However, Mandela left the university after a dispute over student elections.
Move to Johannesburg
After leaving Fort Hare, Mandela moved to Johannesburg, where he found work as an articled clerk and continued his education at the University of Witwatersrand. He eventually completed his BA degree in law at Wits, where he met several prominent figures in the South African Communist Party and the Indian Congress.
In 1944, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) and became part of a group of young intellectuals that included Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Anton Lembede, and Ashley Mda. This group formed the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and eventually influenced the ANC to adopt a more militant stance. The ANCYL drafted the Programme of Action, which called for the ANC to become more aggressive in its fight against apartheid through strikes, boycotts, and civil disobedience.
Political Campaigns and Congress Alliance
By 1950, Mandela had become National Secretary of the ANCYL. He played a key role in uniting various political groups, such as the ANC, the South African Indian Congress (SAIC), the Communist Party, the African People’s Organisation (APO), and the Transvaal Council of Non-European Trade Unions, into what would later be called the Congress Alliance. The Defiance Campaign, launched by the Congress Alliance in 1952, aimed to challenge apartheid laws and transformed the ANC into a mass-based organization.
In conclusion, Nelson Mandela’s early life was marked by significant events that shaped his political journey. His education and exposure to various political figures and ideologies laid the foundation for his lifelong commitment to fighting apartheid and promoting a free and equal South Africa.