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Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born at Qunu, near Umtata, Transkei in 1918. His father, Henry Mgadla Mandela, was chief council to the acting paramount chief of Thembuland. When his father died, Mandela became the chief's ward and was groomed for the chieftainship. Starting a BA degree at Fort Hare, he was expelled for participation in a student strike in 1940, completing his course by correspondence from Johannesburg before taking his articles of clerkship and enrolling for an LLB at the University of Witwatersrand.
Having joined the African National Congress (ANC), he helped found the ANC Youth League in 1944, becoming its Secretary, 1948 and President, 1950. He was elected National Volunteer-in-Chief of the 1952 Defiance Campaign, for his part in which he was given a suspended sentence and banning order confining him to Johannesburg for six months. During this period, he restructured ANC branches into underground cells. By the same year, Mandela and Oliver Tambo (who had also been expelled from Fort Hare in 1940) had founded South Africa's first black law firm, while Mandela was elected the ANC's Transvaal President and Deputy Mational President.
In the 1950s, constant bannings forced him to resign officially from the ANC. At this time, his attention turned to analysing the struggles against the exploitation of labour, the pass laws, the Government's Bantustan policy, and the segregation of open universities, while at the same time helping to conduct the defence (for himself and others) in the treason trial of 1956-1961. He was eventually acquitted. However, in 1960, after the Sharpeville massacre, the ANC was banned and the organisation's military wing (Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK)) was born. Under Mandela's leadership, it conducted a campaign of sabotage against government and economic targets. Having left the country illegally in 1962 for military training in Algeria, and to arrange training for other members of the MK, he was arrested on his return, convicted, and jailed for five years.
While in prison, he was charged, in the Rivonia trial, with sabotage, and his sentence changed to life. Having spoken out in the 1950s against the idea of Bantu education, he made Robben Island, where he was imprisoned, a centre for learning, taking a central role in organised political education classes. Through the 1970s and 1980s he refused offers of freedom from the Government in return for renouncing violence, etc., though on his release on 11th February 1990, he agreed to the suspension of armed struggle.
After his release, he was elected Deputy President of the ANC, 1990-1991 and President, 1991-1997. He served as President of South Africa, 1994-1999, before retiring from public life to return to his birthplace in Transkei.
Mandela holds honorary degrees from various UK universities and was made Honorary QC, 2000. He was given the Jawaharlal Nehru Award, India, 1979, the Simon Bolivar Prize, UNESCO, 1983, the Sakharov Prize, 1988, and the Nobel Peace Prize (with F.W. De Klerk), 1993. He is the author of No easy walk to freedom. articles, speeches and trial addresses, ed. Ruth First (London, Heinemann, 1965) and Long Walk to Freedom (London, Little, Brown, 1994). He has been married twice, to Winnie Mandela (marriage dissolved, 1996), with whom he had two daughters, and in 1998 to Graca, widow of Samora Machel.
Copy, in latin, of Diploma awarded to Mandela by the University of Oxford at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in 1996, and order of ceremony for his visit to Oxford in 1997, including transcripts of the diploma in latin and english.
The papers were presented to the library by the Warden of the Rhodes Trust on 24th August 1999.Access Conditions
Bodleian reader's ticket required.Reproduction Restrictions
No reproduction or publication of personal papers without permission. Contact the library in the first instance.
The library holds a card index of all manuscript collections in its reading room.Related Units of Description
War on Want jigsaws, one with an artist's impression of Nelson Mandela against a background of the ANC flag, the other of Winnie Mandela (ref. MSS. Afr. s. 2296).
Mandela | Nelson Rolihlahla | b 1918 | political activist President of South Africa