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Lawyer, Freedom Fighter, President: The Remarkable Life of Nelson Mandela

Team StoryWeavers|July 18, 2022, 10:31 IST|


“It always seems impossible until it is done.” – Nelson Mandela

Throughout history, the best, most inspirational people have gone through really tough times. Think of your hero or the person you look up to – why do you look up to them? It may be because they’ve overcome some difficulties with determination and intelligence. Discrimination is one such difficulty that a lot of people have faced at some point in their lives.

Discrimination happens when someone is treated differently or badly because they either look different, speak differently or are just not made to belong. There are different kinds of discrimination: Sexism is discrimination based on gender, racism is discrimination based on race or skin colour, and casteism is discrimination based on caste. There is also religious discrimination, ageism, and elitism, which is discrimination based on whether a person is rich or poor. Discrimination is extremely hurtful, wrong and illegal, and nobody should ever have to face it.

Nelson Mandela was one such person, who overcame some of the toughest challenges and worst discrimination in his life and worked hard to make sure that those around him didn’t face the same cruelty. He is known for being the social activist who brought racial discrimination to an end in South Africa. On his 104th birth anniversary, let’s find out more about this man who inspired the world with his kindness and love.

Growing Up in South Africa

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on 18 July 1918, to the chief of a South African tribe called the Tembu, who speak a language called Xhosa. His father Henry and mother Nosekeni named him Rolihlahla. It was his school teacher who gave him the name ‘Nelson’ and that’s the name the pages of history will remember.

Nelson’s father passed away when he was only 12 years old, but he didn’t let that deter him from his goal to study as much as he could. He went on to study law at The University of Fort Hare, and was the first one from his tribe to do so! He became a lawyer in 1942 at the age of 24.

Apartheid in South Africa

South Africa was and still is home to people from many cultures and backgrounds. Unfortunately, it also has a long history of discrimination based on race. When Mandela was growing up, there was a lot of racism in the country. White people would have more privileges and rights than the native Black people, even though it was their country to begin with. Back then, Black people in South Africa did not have proper access to good education, healthcare, or even basic amenities like food, water and shelter just because of the colour of their skin.

This became worse in 1948 when the South African government introduced a system called ‘apartheid’, which is a system based on racial segregation. This meant that people were divided according to skin colour and lived separately in the country, and weren’t allowed to mix. Under this system, Black people weren’t allowed to go to the same schools, offices, or public places like restaurants, as white people did. White people would get a better education, better jobs and more money, while Black people were forced to do low-paying jobs and many couldn’t go to school or even vote in elections. What’s more, white people would treat Black people cruelly and bully them into doing things they didn’t want to do, because they thought Black people were inferior due to their skin colour.

This was the world that Mandela grew up in, with him and his friends and family being discriminated against. And when he became a lawyer, he vowed to help put an end to apartheid. So, soon after he became a lawyer, he joined politics with the African National Congress (ANC), which was a political party that fought for the rights of black people. Nelson set up the ANC Youth League and travelled all over the country with other young people, fighting for the rights of black people and gaining supporters. In fact, it was around this time that Mandela heard of Mahatma Gandhi and his non-violent protests in India, and was inspired to do the same in South Africa.

27 Years in Prison

Nelson Mandela’s efforts to bring equal rights to Black people, the protests he organised and the programmes he launched, all caught the eye of the white people in power in South Africa. And they didn’t like it. Mandela and his co-workers were charged with treason (the act of betraying your country) and were put in jail and given life sentences. What followed was perhaps one of the longest fights from jail. Nelson Mandela spent a total of 27 years imprisoned in various jails across the country.

However, even jail couldn’t stop Nelson’s dream of ending apartheid in South Africa. While in prison, he studied more about politics and law and language. He learnt Afrikaans, the language that white people in South Africa spoke. This helped him make friends in jail and get his message for peace and equal rights out into the world. Because of his efforts, Mandela’s imprisonment gained international attention. People from all over the world, Presidents and Prime Ministers called for his release. There were protests and rallies and international meetings were held to discuss how to get Mandela out of jail. This helped the anti-apartheid movement gain strength in South Africa, weakening the racist government’s power.

Finally, in 1989, the then President of South Africa, F.W. de Klerk met with Nelson and in the following year, he was released.

A New Beginning

Soon after his release, Nelson became the president of the ANC and worked to successfully bring apartheid to an end in South Africa in 1991. For this, he was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Nelson then contested the 1994 South African general elections. And with everyone, irrespective of skin colour, exercising their right to vote, he won and became the first Black president of South Africa. In his presidency, Nelson helped the African community, who had suffered a lot during apartheid. He focused on bringing people of different cultures and communities together peacefully, thus raising South Africa’s position in the world. It was due to his efforts that the country got the nickname ‘the rainbow nation’, to symbolise its diversity and harmony.

Nelson Mandela stepped down as president in 1999 but his life was far from being quiet. He would go on to write many books, speak at international conferences, and visit many countries, bringing along his story of unfailing determination in the face of adversity.

Mandela passed away in December 2013 due to a lung infection. He left behind a legacy of peace and fortitude that will last generations.

On Nelson Mandela Day, leave your thoughts about the activist in the comments below.


Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Nelson Mandela famous for?


Nelson Mandela was the first black president of South Africa. He is famous for ending apartheid in South Africa after years of protest and spending 27 years in jail.

2. What did Nelson Mandela fight against?


Nelson Mandela fought against racism and apartheid, a system that made racial discrimination and segregation the law.

3. How did Nelson Mandela become a hero?


Nelson Mandela became a hero through his tireless efforts to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. He organised protests and rallies and joined politics to help achieve his goal. Despite being jailed for 27 years, he gained support through non-violent protests.

4. What are 3 important facts about Nelson Mandela?


Nelson Mandela was the son of a chief of the Tembu, he spent 27 years in jail, and he was the first black president of South Africa.

5. Is Nelson Mandela still alive?


No, Nelson Mandela died on 5 December, 2013 due to a lung infection at the age of 95.

About the Author

Madhavi is passionate about everything to do with books, art, literature, films, trivia and food. A former journalist, she believes that asking questions makes life interesting.

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