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Thursday 13th August 2020,
Hope for Nigeria

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (July 18, 1918-Dec 5, 2013): A legend has gone

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (July 18, 1918-Dec 5, 2013): A legend has gone – Nelson Mandela was born in Mveso on Thursday 18th July, 1918 on the banks of the Mbashe River in the Transkei, Eastern Cape to Nosekeni Fanny and Gadia Henry Mphakanyiswa (Chief counselor to the chief of the Tembu clan) His father Gadia Henry was stripped of his chieftaincy after exhibiting defiance to a magistrate and thereafter lost his wealth. His mother Fanny as a result of his father’s losses moved to Qunu for support from friends and family.

Nelson Rolihlahla

Mandela was baptized in the Methodist (Wesleyan) church. In 1925, Rolihlahla was enrolled in a one-room primary school near Qunu where he was given the name Nelson by his teacher Miss Mdingane and two years later in 1927 his ailing father entrusted him to his close relative the regent chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the permanent chief of the Tembu.

Mandela enrolled at University of Fort Hare in 1939 at the age of 21. Fort Hare was the only black University in South Africa and it was here that he met Oliver Reginald Tambo (OR Tambo). In 1941 he ran away from Fort Hare to escape an arranged marriage. This early life of Nelson Mandela did not betray any indication of what he would become in later life.

Nelson Mandela’s story is perhaps one of the most compelling in the last century. His path from prison to presidency was the most unlikely and the outpouring of grief worldwide when he passed on at 20:50 HOURS ON Thursday December 5, 2013 is a clear measure of his worth and how greatly he will be missed and how enduring a legacy he left on the sands of time. Mandela’s story is one of courage, defiance, risk-taking, humility, integrity, principle, compassion, candour, forthrightness and a beacon of hope and reconciliation. Mandela’s incarceration for 18 years on Robben Island and the balance at Pollsmoor Prison and his last months in a Paarl prison which totaled 27 years did nothing to take away his dignity, alertness and conviction. Mandela forgave those who sought to crush his spirit and brutalized him. In 1969, Thembekile, his 23 year old son died of a motor crash and the apartheid authorities refused Mandela attending his burial. This cruel act would have broken any normal man’s spirit but not Mandela.

Mandela was a freedom fighter par excellence who fought a battle against forces of darkness which the apartheid state represented. During apartheid more than three thousand people were assassinated by the state and more than thirty thousand people were imprisoned. Mandela was himself introduced to politics by Walter Sisulu who later became his great friend and prison mate in Robben Island.

Mandela will be remembered for his stoic leadership, his magnanimity, his generosity and warm spirit. To quote him, he said’ what counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we had”.

Nelson Mandela believed in reconciling all peoples now matter how extreme their views were. His skills at negotiation which were quite legendary as testified to by fellow Nobel Peace Laureate former President De Klerk helped to lay the foundations for a free and democratic South Africa based on black majority rule which Mandela led as the first black President in 1994. Mandela stood for dignity and he had strong principles and helped to raise awareness about the terrible acts by the apartheid government and the extent of its inhumanity.

Mandela was the epitome of humility, peace, justice and hope for millions of people around the world. He was a world icon who was revered by Kings, Queens, Sportsmen and women, Hollywood stars and Presidents and Prime Ministers as was seen during his memorial at the First National Bank Stadium in Soweto on December 10, 2013 when four US Presidents, three UK Prime Ministers and many leaders from all over the world from Afghanistan to Brazil were in attendance. Mandela was a symbol of exemplary values which people the world over hold dear such as integrity, commitment, equality and well-being of all people irrespective of race, faith, geographical location or position. He could be fierce in his defense of his convictions and beliefs. He negotiated with his enemies without losing his unswerving dignity thus offering a foundational lesson to those who fight for justice around the world.

Mandela was a complete man who adored children, they played around him and he would swoop them up, plonk them on his knee make them laugh. Mandela was also sartorial in his elegance and it mattered not whether he was in a neat –cut suit nor his trademark colorful shirts which became his trademark and signature. He loved sport having been a boxer and he had a razor-sharp mind. He was beyond courageous, a revolutionary whose principles were so intense that he was prepared to die for what he believed in. An icon has gone, a legend has fallen, Africa and indeed the world has lost a rare gem, a true democrat, a presidential president, a royal president, a giant amongst men, a nobel laureate, a father of the nation, a loyal and caring friend and a gentle giant. Adieu Madiba, Adieu Dalibunga, Rest in peace Tata!


Adetunji Omotola is a wine consultant and socio-economic and political commentator based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Adetunji is the founder of the Guild of Nigerian Professionals- South Africa. Adetunji blogs at

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