Nelson Mandela was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918, in the small village of Mvezo in Transkei, South Africa. His name, Rolihlahla, means "pulling the branch of a tree" in Xhosa. The more common translation is "troublemaker," a name that Mandela would surely live up to.
Mandela's father was destined to become a tribal chief, serving as the counselor of tribal chiefs for years. But after entering a dispute with the local colonial magistrate, Mandela's father lost his status. The Mandela family was forced to leave their village and move to Qunu, an even smaller village than Mvezo. In their new home, the Mandelas lived in extremely impoverished conditions.
Mandela became the first in his family to be baptized by the Methodist Church. He also became the first person in his family to attend school. As a result of the racism running rampant in the British educational system within South Africa, a White school teacher told Mandela that his new name would be Nelson.
When Mandela was nine years old, his father died. Young Mandela was then adopted by Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo and moved out of Qunu to the sophisticated city of Mqhekezweni. It was there that Mandela took an interest in African History, learning how his people lived harmoniously until the White man came.
By the age of 16, Mandela was ready to participate in the ceremonial circumcision ritual which would mark his transition from boyhood to manhood. Mandela experienced another moment of enlightenment when Chief Meligqili spoke of how Black men will always serve the White man. This laid the foundation for Mandela's fight against oppression years later.
Mandela attended Wesleyan mission school, the Clarkebury Boarding Institute, and Wesleyan College. He excelled in academics, track, and boxing. He then enrolled in courses at the University College at Fort Hare in 1939 where he studied Roman-Dutch law.
Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1942 and became part of the anti-apartheid movement. Mandela directed the ANC for 20 years. He spearheaded several nonviolent acts of defiance against the racist South African government, including the Defiance Campaign of 1952. As the 1950s progressed, Mandela agreed with the opposition: nonviolent methods of protest were ineffective.
Mandela founded the Umkhonto we Sizwe, or the MK, an armed subsidiary of the ANC. The MK dedicated to sabotaging apartheid through the use of guerilla war tactics. Mandela was arrested in 1961 for organizing a three-day national workers' strike and sentenced to five years in prison. He was brought to trial again in 1963 and given a life sentence for sabotage.
After serving 27 years in prison, Mandela was released in 1990. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and was elected president in 1994, becoming South Africa's first Black president.
In 2011, Mandela developed a lung infection. On December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela died in his home in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was 95 years old.