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Nelson?Mandela was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918, in the tiny village of Mvezo, on the banks of the Mbashe River in Transkei, South?Africa. “Rolihlahla” in the Xhosa language literally means “pulling the?branch of a tree,” but more commonly translates as “troublemaker.”

Nelson?Mandela’s father, who was destined to be a chief, served as a counselor?to tribal chiefs for several years, but lost both his title and fortuneover a dispute with the local colonial magistrate. Mandela was only an?infant at the time, and his father’s loss of status forced his mother?to move the family to Qunu, an even smaller village north of Mvezo. The?village was nestled in a narrow grassy valley; there were no roads,only foot paths that linked the pastures where livestock grazed. The?family lived in huts and ate a local harvest of maize, sorghum, pumpkin?and beans, which was all they could afford. Water came from springs and?streams and cooking was done outdoors. Mandela played the games of?young boys, acting out male rights-of-passage scenarios with toys he?made from the natural materials available, including tree branches and?clay.

At?the suggestion of one of his father’s friends, Mandela was baptized in?the Methodist Church. He went on to become the first in his family to?attend school. As was custom at the time, and probably due to the bias?of the British educational system in South Africa, Mandela’s teacher?told him that his new first name would be Nelson.

When?Mandela was 9 years old, his father died of lung disease, causing his?life to change dramatically. He was adopted by Chief Jongintaba?Dalindyebo, the acting regent of the Thembu people?a gesture done as a?favor to Mandela’s father, who, years earlier, had recommended?Jongintaba be made chief. Mandela subsequently left the carefree life?he knew in Qunu, fearing that he would never see his village again. He?traveled by motorcar to Mqhekezweni, the provincial capital of?Thembuland, to the chief’s royal residence. Though he had not forgotten?his beloved village of Qunu, he quickly adapted to the new, more?sophisticated surroundings of Mqhekezweni.

Mandela?was given the same status and responsibilities as the regent’s two?other children, his son and oldest child, Justice, and daughter Nomafu.Mandela took classes in a one-room school next to the palace, studying?English, Xhosa, history and geography. It was during this period that
Mandela developed an interest in African history, from elder chiefs who?came to the Great Palace on official business. He learned how the?African people had lived in relative peace until the coming of the?white people. According to the elders, the children of South Africa had?previously lived as brothers, but white men had shattered this?fellowship. While black men shared their land, air and water with?whites, white men took all of these things for themselves.

When?Mandela was 16, it was time for him to partake in the traditional?African circumcision ritual to mark his entrance into manhood.The?ceremony of circumcision was not just a surgical procedure,but anelaborate ritual in preparation for manhood. In African tradition,an?uncircumcised man cannot inherit his father’s wealth,marry or?officiate at tribal rituals. Mandela participated in the ceremony with?25 other boys. He welcomed the opportunity to partake in his people’s?customs and felt ready to make the transition from boyhood to manhood.His mood shifted during the proceedings, however, when Chief Meligqili,the main speaker at the ceremony, spoke sadly of the young men,explaining that they were enslaved in their own country. Because their?land was controlled by white men, they would never have the power to?govern themselves, the chief said. He went on to lament that the?promise of the young men would be squandered as they struggled to make?a living and perform mindless chores for white men. Mandela would later?say that while the chief’s words didn’t make total sense to him at the?time, they would eventually formulate his resolve for an independent?South Africa.

From?the time Mandela came under the guardianship of Regent Jongintaba, he?was groomed to assume high office, not as a chief, but a counselor to?one. As Thembu royalty, Mandela attended a Wesleyan mission school, the?Clarkebury Boarding Institute and Wesleyan College, where, he would?later state, he achieved academic success through “plain hard work.” He?also excelled at track and boxing. Mandela was initially mocked as a?”country boy” by his Wesleyan classmates, but eventually became friends?with several students, including Mathona, his first female friend.

In?1939, Mandela enrolled at the University College of Fort Hare,the only?residential center of higher learning for blacks in South Africa at the?time. Fort Hare was considered Africa’s equivalent of the University of?Oxford or Harvard University, drawing scholars from all parts of?sub-Sahara Africa. In his first year at the university, Mandela took?the required courses, but focused on Roman Dutch law to prepare for a?career in civil service as an interpreter or clerk?regarded as the best?profession that a black man could obtain at the time.

In?his second year at Fort Hare, Mandela was elected to the Student?Representative Council. For some time, students had been dissatisfied?with the food and lack of power held by the SRC. During this election?a majority of students voted to boycott unless their demands were met.Aligning with the student majority, Mandela resigned from his position.Seeing this as an act of insubordination, the university’s Dr. Kerrexpelled Mandela for the rest of the year and gave him an ultimatum: He
could return to the school if he agreed to serve on the SRC.When?Mandela returned home, the regent was furious, telling him?unequivocally that he would have to recant his decision and go back to?school in the fall.


?Nelson Mandela. [Internet]. 2015. The website. Available from: [Accessed 14 May 2015].



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