Nelson Mandela – birthday and chronology of his life

“…Be part of the Mandela movement to make the world a better place. That is the best way to wish Nelson Mandela a very happy 94th birthday.” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his message for Nelson Mandela International Day, 18 July 2012.

Today, it gives me immense pleasure to say Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela. This great leader has been a lawyer and a freedom fighter, a political prisoner, peacemaker and president, a healer of nations and a mentor to generations of leaders and people from all walks of life throughout the world.

Chronology of Nelson Mandela’s Life

18 July 1918 – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela born in Mvezo, South Africa

1944 – Joins the African National Congress (ANC)

1944 – Founds the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) with others

1948 – Elected as National Secretary of the ANCYL

1952 – Launch of the “Defiance” Campaign, a massive civil disobedience campaign against unjust laws. Mandela is elected National Volunteer-in-Chief for the campaign

1956 to 1961 – Mandela one of 156 accused in the Treason Trial

21 March 1960 – Sharpeville massacre, during which 69 men, women and children are killed and about 200 wounded. The government soon declares a state of emergency and arrests about 18,000 protesters.  The ANC is banned and Mandela goes underground

1961 – Formation of the ANC’s armed movement, Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”), with Mandela as commander-in-chief

1962 – Mandela travels to other parts of Africa and Europe

5 August 1962 – Mandela arrested for illegal exit from the country and incitement to strike. He is convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment

July 1963 – Arrest of prominent ANC leaders at Rivonia. Mandela is accused with them

12 June 1964 – Sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to RobbenIsland (later moved to Pollsmoor Prison and then Victor Verster Prison)

1985 – Amidst prolonged mass protests against the apartheid system, the ANC initiates talks with the regime

February 1990 – Released from prison

1993 – Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (along with F.W. de Klerk)

27 April 1994 – First multi-racial elections held in South Africa with full enfranchisement, with the ANC winning a strong majority

10 May 1994 – Inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president, standing down in 1999 after one term

Mandela On freedom

Those who are voteless cannot be expected to continue paying taxes to a government which is not responsible to them. People who live in poverty and starvation cannot be expected to pay exorbitant house rents to the government and local authorities. We furnish the sinews of agriculture and industry. We produce the work of the gold mines, the diamonds and the coal, of the farms and industry, in return for miserable wages. Why should we continue enriching those who steal the products of our sweat and blood? Those who exploit us and refuse us the right to organise trade unions? …

I am informed that a warrant for my arrest has been issued, and that the police are looking for me. … Any serious politician will realise that under present-day conditions in this country, to seek for cheap martyrdom by handing myself to the police is naive and criminal. We have an important programme before us and it is important to carry it out very seriously and without delay.

I have chosen this latter course, which is more difficult and which entails more risk and hardship than sitting in gaol. I have had to separate myself from my dear wife and children, from my mother and sisters, to live as an outlaw in my own land. I have had to close my business, to abandon my profession, and live in poverty and misery, as many of my people are doing. … I shall fight the government side by side with you, inch by inch, and mile by mile, until victory is won. What are you going to do? Will you come along with us, or are you going to cooperate with the government in its efforts to suppress the claims and aspirations of your own people? Or are you going to remain silent and neutral in a matter of life and death to my people, to our people? For my own part I have made my choice. I will not leave South Africa, nor will I surrender. Only through hardship, sacrifice and militant action can freedom be won. The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days.

from “The Struggle is my Life”, the press statement issued while underground in South Africa, 26, June 1961.


An Alarming Note Too: As we celebrate the 94th birthday of Nelson Mandela, South Africans are increasingly beginning to grapple with the question of how to demonstrate care for the man without infringing on his dignity. I remember seeing a frail Mandela being driven out onto the soccer pitch at the closing ceremony of the 2010 World Cup, with wife Graça Machel waving his arm at the crowds on his behalf. Watch that video here:


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