CHILDHOOD AND UPBRINGING
In the world into which Nelson Mandela was born in 1918, children were best seen, not heard. 'We were meant to learn through imitation and emulation, not through asking questions', Mandela tells us in his autobiography.1 'Education we received by simply sitting silently when our elders talked,' he explained to Fatima Meer.2 Despite his early upbringing in a village community composed mainly of women and children, from infancy his social relationships were regulated by strict conventions and precise rules of etiquette. In this vein, much of the emphasis in most accounts of Nelson Mandela's childhood has fallen on what he was told and what he presumably learned rather than on what he felt or perceived.
Lineage enjoys pride of place in Mandela's testimonies about his childhood. When Meer wrote her 'authorised' biography in 1988, Mandela himself, then still in prison, compiled a family tree and supportive notes for a genealogy passing through ten generations. This indicated his line of descent in the Thembu chieftaincy as a member of its 'left-hand house' of King Ngubencuka, who presided over a united Thembu community in the 1830s. The Thembu were one of twelve isiXhosa-speaking chieftaincies that inhabited the Transkei, the largest of South Africa's African peasant reserves situated on South Africa's eastern seaboard. The Thembu lefthand house, descendants of Ngubencuka's third wife, by convention served as counsellors or advisers to the royal household, the sons of Ngubencuka's 'Great House'. In this capacity, Mandela suggests, his father Henry Gadla Mpakhanyiswa can be thought of as the Thembu paramount's 'prime minister', though more prosaically he was accorded the post of village headman at Mvezo near Umtata by the administration of the Transkeien territories, a secular authority of