12 Things You Did Not Know About Nelson Mandela


Nelson Mandela

The tragic loss of Nelson Mandela’s passing today, has sent shock waves throughout the world. Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95. He was an inspiration to a lot of people through his anti-Apartheid stance and charity work, even though he did spend 27 years of his life behind bars. Here are some of the lesser known facts of this great man.

1. Mandela’s birth name, Rolihlahla, is an isiXhosa name that means “pulling the branch of the tree”. Colloquially it also means “troublemaker”. His English name, Nelson, was given to him by a missionary schoolteacher.

2. Mandela’s prison number was 46664, based on the fact that he was the 466th prisoner in 1964. He has since embraced the number, making it the name of his HIV/AIDS awareness campaign and the name of a series of charity concerts benefiting said charity.

3. Mandela and his cousin Justice ran away from home in 1941 to avoid arranged marriages. After arriving in the city, he worked as a night watchman at a mine.

4. He was expelled from the University of Fort Hare after joining a student protest. He later completed his degree through Unisa, which he followed up with a law degree from Wits University.

5. On November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly declared July 18th “Mandela Day.” It was his birthday, but also a national celebration and recognition of his contributions to freedom. This was the first time the UN dedicated a particular day to a person.

6. South Africans commonly refer to Mandela as “mkhulu” (grandfather), and sometimes Madiba, the Mandela family name for a respected elder.

7. Mandela received more than 695 awards, among the most notable awards was the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

Mandela throws a rose into his son's grave

Mandela throws a rose into his son’s grave

8. He married the love of his life in 1944, Evelyn Mase. Shortly after getting married, the couple were marred by tragedy. Their second child, Makaziwe, passed away at just nine months old. Two other children, Madiba Thembekile (Thembi), passed away in a car crash while Mandela was still incarcerated in 1969, Makgatho Lewanika, passed away of AIDS in 2005. He had two other children with his second wife, Winnie Madikizela. He has left 20 grandchildren and “a growing number” of great-grandchildren.

9. After he was separated from his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, he asked struggle stalwart Amina Cachalia, with whom he had a long relationship, to marry him but she turned him down. On his 80th birthday, Mandela married Graça Machel, the widow of Mozambique’s former president Samora Machel.

10. In 1962, he left the country to garner support for the armed struggle. During this time he received guerrilla training in Morocco and Ethiopia.

11.The circumstances surrounding his arrest at a police roadblock outside of Howick, Natal later that year remain unclear but it is believed that a CIA agent tipped off the police about his whereabouts. He was then convicted of sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government and sentenced to life in prison.

Nelson Mandela's Prison Cell

Nelson Mandela’s Prison Cell

12. During his time in prison, Mandela was confined to a 2m x 2.5m cell, with nothing but a bedroll on the floor and a bucket for sanitation. He was consigned to hard labour in a lime quarry, and at first, only allowed one visitor and one letter every six months.

May this great man, rest in peace. Your contributions to freedom will never be forgotten.