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Africa Chronology

Nelson Mandela


   On July 18, 1918 in a small village called Mvezo a young child was born and named Rolihlahla.  This name was later changed to Nelson Mandela.  He was the last of his father's children to be born.  His father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, was the chief of the Mvezo in the Thumb tribe and handled many of the problems of the tribe.  Gadla was the type of man that would fight almost to the death to get something resolved and soon Nelson would be a fighter just as his father.

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            Mandela attended the University of Fort Hare in Alice where he became involved in the political struggle against the racial discrimination in South Africa.  Later, all of  his political activity caused him to become expelled from school in 1940.  After he left the university, Nelson found work immediately as a night watchman, which he found fairly simple.  After working there for a few months, he switched jobs and became a clerk.  While he was working as a clerk, he managed to earn his bachelor's degree in 1942.  After that, he went on to study law at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.  At the university, Mandela became increasingly involved with the African National Congress [ANC], a multiracial nationalist movement that wanted to bring about democratic political change in South Africa.

            As Mandela fought to stop the racial discrimination and demanded justice, he soon found himself a victim of discrimination.  In 1952, he and his friend Oliver Tambo became the first blacks to open a law practice in South Africa.  Mandela was harassed by the government daily. As the fight against apartheid escalated and the ANC increased its attacks on the government, Mandela was charged with treason.  He was, however, acquitted of these charges.

            In August of 1962 Nelson Mandela was arrested again and sentenced to prison for five years on charges for leaving the country illegally.  While he was in prison some of his ANC colleagues were arrested and Mandela was put on trial with them for treason, sabotage, and violent conspiracy.  He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment in June 1964.  

            During his eighteen years in prison, Nelson Mandela faced poor treatment and harassment.  He was transferred to two different prisons, both maximum security.  Though always under surveillance, he found time to write his autobiography which was published in 1994.  He became an international symbol of resistance to apartheid during these years in prison.  Many world leaders demanded his release.  With the pressure increasing for his release, the South African government had no other choice but to do so.  Nelson became free once again in February 1990.

            After his release in 1990, Mandela took his position in the ANC where he once again for his beliefs in justice for the blacks of South Africa.  He brought together both blacks and whites to finally bring apartheid to an end. For his great success, he was awarded in 1993 with the Nobel Peace Prize.  Later in 1997 Nelson was elected president of South Africa.


Mandela, Nelson. Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography. Little Brown and Company; 1994.

Edited by: Sandy Seitman
Researched by: Carolina Raygoza
Written by: Elizabeth Borg
March 16, 2000


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