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The Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela

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The Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela A1

 06 December 2013 A2

Outline A3

  1.  Introduction
  2.  Early Life
    1. Birthplace
    2. Education
  3. Imprisonment
  4.  Presidency
  5.  Later Years
    1. Work
    2. Health
    3. Death
  6.  Personal Thoughts A4
  7. Conclusion

Introduction A5

          Nelson Mandela is the former president of South Africa, and a revolutionary who fought against apartheid. He was elected president of that nation in 1994, and served until 1999. His election made history because he was the first black man elected to the office. He was chosen through a multiracial election that was fully representative of what the people of that country wanted. Mandela has a strong legacy in his home country, but also throughout the rest of the world. He is a very controversial figure. Critics denounced him and proclaimed him a terrorist, while supporters lauded him for his stance against apartheid and racism throughout the country. He has been called the father of the nation of South Africa. In 2013, Mandela was 94 years old and had been in and out of hospitals for years. There were concerns that his death was imminent. The anger some felt toward him and the deep respect for him that was felt by others was clear each time his name was in the news. No matter what a person's stance is on Mandela, it is clear that he is a polarizing figure who has left a strong legacy. A6

Early Life


            Mandela was born in Umtatu, in the village of Mvezo, which is a part of what was then Cape Province, on the 18th of July, 1918 (Sampson 3). A7 His clan name was "Madiba," and he came to be known informally by that name as he got older, with the surname Mandela becoming his through his great-grandfather's lineage (Sampson, 2011). A8 Even though Mandela was the great-grandson of a king, the line of descent and rules of the tribe into which he was born made that side of the family ineligible for inheritance to the throne. His parents were illiterate, and no one in the family had ever attended school or attained any kind of formal degree or educational level (Sampson, 2011).       


            Mandela's mother was a Christian, and when Mandela was seven years old she sent him to a Methodist school so he could get an education (Smith 2010). A9 There, he was given a new name – Nelson – by his teacher. He was also baptized into the Methodist religion. When asked about the naming issue in later years, Mandela had this to say:

No one C1 in my family had ever attended school [...] On the first day of school my teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave each of us an English name. This was the custom among Africans in those days and was undoubtedly due to the British bias of our education. That day, Miss Mdingane told me that my new name was Nelson. Why this particular name I have no idea.

            When Mandela was nine, his father passed away, leaving him feeling adrift (Mandela, 1994). He was then taken to Mqhekezweni, where he was entrusted to the care of the regent, Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo (Mandela, 1994). He went to church every Sunday with the Chief and his family, and was treated as if he was one of the Chief's children. It would be many years before he would see his mother again. During that time, Christianity became very important to him (Smith, 2010). He attended a Methodist missionary school, and became interested in the history of his country.

          To become a privy councillor, he would need secondary education. After he earned his Junior Certificate, he studied at the University of Fort Hare so he could attain his Bachelor of Arts (Smith, 2010). He left the University at the end of his first year, having gotten suspended for getting involved in a boycott regarding the school's food (Mandela, 1994). After leaving the University he worked in various places and continued with his studies. He also became increasingly interested in the history and political climate of his country (Smith, 2010). In 1943, Mandela passed the exam for his BA degree, which was attained through correspondence courses (Sampson, 2011).


            Mandela was arrested in August of 1962, along with others of the African National Congress (ANC), and charged with leaving the country without permission and inciting workers to strike (Smith, 2010). He represented himself, and began studying for a Bachelor of Laws degree through the University of London (Sampson, 2011). All the work was done via correspondence. He was moved to Pretoria, where he could be visited by family. The hearing on his crimes began in October of that same year. He was found guilty, and sentenced to five years in prison (Smith, 2010). In July of 1963, documents were found that mentioned Mandela in the discussion of many illegal activities. Mandela and others who had been imprisoned with him had new charges brought against them, including sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government (Mandela, 1994).

          Eventually, Mandela pleaded guilty to sabotage, but denied any overthrow conspiracy. He was found guilty on all charges, and sentenced to life in prison. He was then transferred to Robben Island, where he spent 18 years (Mandela, 1994). As political prisoners, he and his co-accused were kept away from the general population. They lived in damp, 8-foot by 7-foot cells and slept on straw mats (Smith, 2010). During the day, Mandela broke rocks and also worked in a lime quarry. Mandela was not released until February of 1990, although he was transferred to different prisons several times and his living conditions did improve somewhat (Smith, 2010). When Mandela was released, the political party to which he belonged was also made legal, along with any other political parties that had formerly been banned (Meredith, 2010). This began the end of apartheid.


            In the 1994 general elections in South Africa, Nelson Mandela was elected President (Meredith, 2010). He ran as a member of the ANC, on a platform of development and reconstruction for the country (Smith, 2010). Mandela was not a good public speaker, but he had developed a strong following because of his beliefs about equality (Smith, 2010). The ANC party promised to extend electricity and water to places that did not have it, provide free universal education, and build one million houses in five years (Smith, 2010). The Press in South Africa did not want to see Mandela elected, and openly supported the Democratic Party, instead. There was some violence during the elections, but not as much as was expected, given the upheaval that had taken place in the country's political system over the past few decades. Still, car bombs killed 20 people during the election period (Sampson, 2011).

            During his presidency, Mandela was often isolated and left feeling lonely (Mandela, 1994). He was critical of the media in his country, but did befriend journalists as well as rich businessmen (Sampson, 2011). He also divorced his first wife, and began a relationship with a woman he had met through his political activism. Mandela's presidency marked a transition for South Africa. The country moved from apartheid to democracy, with Mandela working to help ensure that both black and white residents of the country felt protected and included (Meredith, 2010). He considered this to be the most important part of his work as president. Domestic programs were also improved under Mandela's leadership. More people received medical care, education, and basic sanitation, all of which were vital in allowing the country to move forward (Sampson, 2011). The two biggest problems with the Mandela presidency were the AIDS epidemic and the greed and corruption seen in the government (Sampson, 2011). These issues plagued Mandela throughout his time in office.    

Later Years


            Mandela did not leave the public eye when his presidency ended. He was still very committed to working on causes that had mattered to him for a number of years. He formally retired from running the country on the 29th of March, 1999, when he gave his farewell speech (Meredith, 2010). His original plan was to live a quiet life with family, but he soon became frustrated with the seclusion. That led him to meet with world leaders and work with a foundation he had started years before (Sampson, 2011). He focused his efforts in several areas, one of which dealt with making sure South African people who were HIV+ could get the medications they needed to survive (Sampson, 2011). He also became vocal about Western power and started to openly criticize both the US and the UK, especially for the war in Iraq (Smith, 2010).  


            By 2004, Mandela was 85 and his health was starting to fail him. He stopped most of his public appearances, and interview requests were usually denied (Smith, 2010). In 2008, when he turned 90, he did make a public appearance and gave a speech that called for the rich people throughout the world to help those who were in need (Sampson, 2011). In February of 2011, Mandela was admitted to the hospital with a respiratory infection, and then was admitted again in December of 2012 for removal of a gallstone as well as another lung infection. Early March of 2013 found in back in the hospital for lung problems, and he was re-hospitalized in June of that same year. As of July 11, 2013, he remained in the hospital, in critical but stable condition. Rumors that Mandela was in a vegetative state were deemed untrue, but his condition showed little improvement during his hospital stay.


            Nelson Mandela passed away on December 5, 2013, at the age of 95 (Karimi, 2013). A specific cause of death was not given at the time, and the death was announced by South African president Jacob Zuma (Karimi, 2013). At the time of his passing, it was reported that Mandela was at home, surrounded by his friends and family members (Karimi, 2013). He had a long life, filled with both triumph and tragedy, and it ended on a peaceful note. That is more than many people get the opportunity for. The death of Nelson Mandela was somewhat unexpected by those who were not close to him, however, because he had not been in the news recently with other health conditions. He was not in the hospital, and had not had medical emergencies, illnesses, operations, or significant procedures recently that were reported or that the public was made aware of.

          It is quite possible that further information will become available at a later date regarding the specifics of his death. The media always desires to know more details of an event, and that is especially true of something as significant of the loss of a man who many considered to be one of the greatest men of this time period. Many felt that Mandela was the father of modern-day South Africa, and that the country would be much different without his influence (Karimi, 2013). He was an icon of the anti-apartheid movement and a man who was truly passionate about the causes in which he believed. If for no other reasons than those, he has left a lasting legacy and will be remembered by the people of his country and the people of the world for the changes he enacted.

Personal Thoughts C2

          Nelson Mandela appears to be both a hero and a criminal. When he first started into activism, he probably never saw his life developing the way it did. Even being imprisoned for a long time did not stop him from focusing on the things that mattered to him. He wanted a better life for the people in his country, and was determined to get it. Those kinds of traits are admirable. However, an argument can be made that defying the laws of the land is not an acceptable way to go about getting what you want. If I had been in Mandela's situation, I have no idea what I would have done. It is a very difficult thing to consider, having never lived with that kind of oppression. When Mandela was president, he also had some problems with the people not thinking he was doing enough in some areas. There were a lot of rumors that there was corruption in his government. That may have been true, but no man (or government) is perfect. It is not possible to do everything for everyone all the time. Overall, I think Mandela did much more good for South Africa than any harm he might have done.


            Throughout the life of Nelson Mandela, South Africa changed dramatically. Much of that was the doing of Mandela and those who were committed to the causes in which he believed. The ANC has also changed, as it is not the same as it was when Mandela first joined it. Nothing remains the same, but whether apartheid would still be present in South Africa without Mandela's influence is not possible to know. Additionally, Mandela made his mark on the entire world, and became a household name in nearly every country. His criticism of the Western countries has not always won him friends and allies, but many people respect him for speaking his mind. Even those who feel he harmed the country of South Africa can agree that he is leaving a unique legacy behind.

Works Cited C3


Karimi , F. (2013). Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid icon and father of modern South Africa, dies. Retrieved from  

Mandela, C4 Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom Volume I: 1918-1962. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 1994.

Meredith, C5 M. (2010). Mandela: A biography. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.

Sampson, C6 Anthony. Mandela: The authorised biography. London: HarperCollins, 2011. Print.

Smith, C7 D. J., 2010. Young Mandela. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

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