How did they know?
On July 18, 1918, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born to a Xhosa family in the village of Mvezo in Umtata, which was part of then South Africa’s Cape Province. He was given the name of Rolihlahla, a Xhosa term that means troublemaker.
How could his family have known they were going to be raising a child to a man, who would become a superhero to millions, and cause a great deal of trouble for some along the way?
He came from a royal line. His patrilineal great-grandfather, Ngubengcuka, was king of the Thembu people in the Transkeian Territories of today’s Eastern Cape. Mandela’s father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa Mandela, was a local chief and councilor to the monarch. But he grew up with his two sisters in his mother’s kraal in the village of Qunu, where he tended herds as a cattle-boy. Both his parents were illiterate, but his mother was a devout Christian, and sent him to a local Methodist school when he was about seven. Baptized a Methodist, Mandela was given the English forename of “Nelson” by his teacher. When Mandela was about nine his father came to live at the homestead where he later died.
Mandela would later state that he had inherited “his father’s proud rebelliousness and stubborn sense of fairness.”
In 1933, Mandela began his secondary education at Clarkebury Methodist High School in Engcobo, a Western-style institution that was the largest school for black Africans in Thembuland, and then went on to Healdtown, a Methodist college.
His path would lead him in and out of his Xhosa community as his world expanded to encompass college, new friends with different perspectives and law school. Mandela began studying law at the University of the Witwatersrand, where he was the only black African student and he faced racism as he had throughout his life. But he was befriended by liberal and communist European Jewish, and Indian students. He was becoming increasingly political.
From these beginnings, Mandela went on to change South Africa and the world. He was arrested and sent to prison for his beliefs, he was beaten, and he failed as many times as he succeeded. But his indominable spirit and that stubborn sense of fairness would win in the end.
We honor the 100th birthday of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who became the first black president of South Africa (1994-99), saw the end of institutionalized Apartheid in the early 1990s, and would continue to be the best kind of troublemaker, working for peace throughout the remainder of his life.
Thank you, Mr. Mandela.
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