The Struggle Is My Life. I Will Fight for Freedom till the End of My Days; NELSON MANDELA 1918-2013 THE MAKING OF A REVOLUTIONARY

Article excerpt


BORN Rolihlahla Dalibhunga on July 18, 1918, in the rolling Transkei region of South Africa's Eastern Cape, Nelson Mandela's very name had revolution at its heart.

His Xhosa tribal name Rolihlahla meant "one who brings trouble upon himself". His English name Nelson, given to him by a teacher, was in tribute to the admiral who never knew when he was beaten.

History will record that Nelson Rolihlahla was a heroic troublemaker all his long life - a man with many names given by enemies and friends. To the apartheid regime, Mandela was the Black Pimpernel, one of South Africa's most dangerous criminals. To his supporters he was known as Mkhulu, or grandfather - a revered member of the family.

In later life, to South Africans and friends, he was always known simply as Madiba, an honorary title adopted by elders of his clan. And to the world, he will remain Mandela, the closest person we have had to a moral world leader, an elder statesman above mere presidents, prime ministers and queens.

His life began humbly, born to subsistence farmers in a village of beehive-shaped huts called Qunu. Living in this community of a few hundred people in a narrow grassy valley overlooked by green hills gave Mandela a lifelong love of open spaces and rural life he drew on during his time in prison.

MANDELA wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom: "The floor of our home was made of crushed antheap... and was kept smooth by smearing it regularly with fresh cow-dung.

"There were no roads, only paths worn away by barefooted boys and women. The women wore blankets dyed in ochre; only the few Christians in the village wore Western-style clothing."

Even though Nelson's family was descended from royal stock, the land they worked was state-owned and rented to Africans. The men worked in remote farms or mines and returned only twice a year.

"My father, Chief Henry, was a polygamist with four wives," Mandela told the Rivonia trial of African National Congress leaders in 1963. "Neither he nor my mother ever went to school."

Chief Henry died of tuberculosis when Nelson was nine and the boy was placed in the care of acting regent Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo. "My political interest was first aroused when I listened to the elders of our tribe as a youth," Mandela told the trial.

"They spoke of the good days before the arrival of the white man. Our people lived peacefully under the democratic rule of their kings and counsellors and moved freely all over their country.

"Then the country was ours. We occupied the land, the forests and the rivers. We set up and operated our own government, we controlled our own armies and organised our own land and commerce. The elders would tell us about the liberation and how it was fought by our ancestors in defence of our country... I hoped and vowed then that amongst the pleasures life might offer would be the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to their struggle for freedom."

Mandela was the first member of his family to go to school and ended up studying for a BA at Fort Hare University in the Cape. Here he met Oliver Tambo, a lifelong friend and comrade in the anti-apartheid movement. The pair's first serious political act was to become involved in a boycott against university policies that saw Mandela asked to leave Fort Hare. His adoptive father arranged a wedding to a girl Mandela did not love and he fled to Johannesburg, where he took various jobs before becoming an articled clerk at a law firm, then training as a lawyer at the University of Witwatersrand.

But because of apartheid, even after he qualified as a lawyer in 1952 and opened his own practice in Johannesburg he could not actually live in the city.

Johannesburg was designated Whites Only and Mandela was forced, like all so-called "blacks" and "coloureds", to live in a township - an area designated for "non-whites" outside the city limits. …