Top 10 unknown and interesting facts about Nelson Mandela

As the harbinger of the movement calling for the abolition of the apartheid system in the country, Mandela is revered across the world for his political activism in bringing racial equality and justice in South Africa.

Lesser-known and interesting facts about Former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela:

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, bynamed Madiba — in reference to the tribe he hailed from, was the first Black President of South Africa. As the harbinger of the movement calling for the abolition of the apartheid system in the country, Mandela is revered across the world for his political activism in bringing racial equality and justice in South Africa.


Born on July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, South Africa, Mandela was the son of Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, principal councillor to the acting King of the Thembu people. Mandela pursued his higher studies — enrolling in the University College of Fort Hare, however, he was expelled from the institute for his rendezvous with a student protest movement.

He later earned his degree in Bachelor of Arts through the University of South Africa and went back to Fort Hare for his graduation in 1943. Mandela had been seeking to pursue a career in law upon graduating but was unable to complete his education for numerous reasons throughout his life — poverty and imprisonment being the more central.

Mandela’s foray into politics began during his academic years, leading him to join the African National Congress in 1944. Thereupon, he headed the party’s youth wing. Mandela’s decisive leverage in the party prompted him to swiftly climb the ranks, enabling him to influence the ANC to adopt a more radical mass-based policy, the Programme of Action, in 1949.

A diploma enabled Mandela to practice law in the country, ascertaining him as one of the first Black lawyers in the country. In partnership with fellow ABC leader Oliver Tambo, Mandela established South Africa’s first Black law practice, specializing in cases arising from the post-1948 apartheid legislation. In 1955 he was engaged in drafting the Freedom Charter, a document proposing a nonracial social democracy in South Africa.

Mandela’s activism made him a known target in South Africa, a situation that led him to be imprisoned multiple times throughout his political career. He also renounced his nonviolent approach to racial activism after the massacre of Black South Africans by police forces in 1960. Thereafter, he became a vocal advocate for acts of sabotage against the racist South African regime and co-founded the Umkhonto we Sizwe — the military wing of the ANC.

Mandela was imprisoned for life on charges of treason for his involvement with the Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1964. He spent over two decades incarcerated, refusing a conditional release from prison on multiple occasions. Nonetheless, the gradual worsening circumstances of the South African government led President de Klerk to release Mandela from prison in 1990. Upon release, Mandela took charge of the ANC and steered negotiations to end the apartheid system in South Africa. 

In 1994 Mandela led ANC to victory during South Africa’s first elections by universal suffrage, wherein Mandela was sworn in as President of the country’s first multiethnic government. During his tenure at the office, he oversaw the execution of a new democratic constitution in the country and endeavoured to bring justice to people who had suffered due to the apartheid regime. 

Mandela retired from active politics at the end of his presidency. However, he remained a key figure in international politics as an advocate of peace and racial equality. An organisation established in his name oversaw issues that impeded social justice around the world. Recognising his life-long efforts to end racial discrimination in South Africa and across the globe, the United Nations began to observe his birthday as the Nelson Mandela International Day. 


Here are 10 facts you might not know about Nelson Mandela: 


  • Mandela is considered the father of Modern South Africa for the instrumental role he played in tearing down the oppressive government and installing democracy in the country. 


  • Mandela’s birth name was Rolihlahla. As it was customary for school-going children to be given a Christian name, his primary school teacher gave him the name Nelson. 


  • After leaving the University College of Fort Hare, the king of his tribe coerced him and his cousin to agree to arranged marriages. They both ran away to Johannesburg to avoid the marriages.


  • Mandela was bestowed with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for peacefully eradicating the Apartheid regime and laying the foundation for democracy in South Africa. In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, he had won over 250 other awards during his lifetime. 


  • Nelson Mandela married thrice during his lifetime. He was married in 1944 to Evelyn Ntoko Mase. They were married for 13 years. He later married Winnie Madikizela in 1958 and they divorced in 1996 after 38 years. In 1998, on his 80th birthday, he married Graca Machel, who was the widow of a former Mozambique president.


  • When Mandela was evading authorities during his fight against apartheid, he disguised himself in various ways, including as a chauffeur. The press nicknamed him “The Black Pimpernel” because of his police evasion tactics.


  • The Nelson Mandela International day calls upon people to spend 67 minutes doing something good for others, alluding to the 67 years he spent working toward change


  • After retiring from active politics, Mandela became an active participant in the Nelson Mandela Foundation that focused on combating HIV/AIDS and supported rural development and school construction in Africa. 


  • In 1968, both his mother and son passed away. However, he was not permitted out of prison to attend their funerals. His son passed away due to suffering from AIDS. 


  • The autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom, which chronicles Mandela’s early life and years in prison, was published in 1994.