100 Years of Madiba

Nelson Mandela

The Legend

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, fondly referred to as Madiba, became a legend in his lifetime. In a worldwide survey done some years ago in which photos of famous people in the world had to be named, Nelson’s photo was, by far, the most recognised, more so than photos of any other world leader or icon.

He was considered to be one of the world’s greatest leaders despite having been incarcerated for 27 years on Robben Island on charges of treason before being freed. His prison number, 46664, is known throughout the world and serves as a symbol and a reminder of a great man who unified South Africa.

But who exactly was he?

Madiba Through Zelda’s Eyes

Zelda la Grange was Nelson Mandela’s assistant for 16 years, during his presidency and when he retired. She organised his working week and travelled extensively with him on foreign tours and only left him when he retired from public life. Zelda’s name became Zeldina after a state visit to Russia after Mandela learned that President Boris Yeltsin’s wife’s name was Yeltsina. After that 1999 visit, the name Zeldina stuck. Mandela knew what he wanted. He could be tough, on himself too, and was very straightforward. “You knew what was expected of you and, as long as you were doing that, it was very easy to work for him,” she said. While he was president he would sometimes phone Zelda at 2am and think nothing of it. Mandela worked exceptionally hard and expected the same from those around him. Afrikaans became their secret weapon overseas when he didn’t want people to know what he was saying. He had learnt to speak Afrikaans on Robben Island. His favourite people included the then Presidents Bill Clinton, Nicolas Sarkozy, Jacques Chirac, Prime Ministers John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He was also failingly polite to people like Margaret Thatcher, even though she had referred to the ANC as a terrorist organisation. He saw the humour in a number of situations, telling Gordon Brown “we’re very happy to see prime minister Brown and we’re here to remind [the British] that although they colonised us, we have now taken over.” That was his 

sense of humour. He also enjoyed some light-hearted moments with Queen Elizabeth. Zelda had this to say about Mandela’s penchant for celebrities such as Naomi Campbell, Michael Jackson and the Spice Girls. “I think he was amused and entertained by their fame; he was almost curious in a way, he wanted to see for himself why people were famous. It intrigued him. Naomi was like a granddaughter to him. The fact she offered her celebrity status to support his charitable work was very important and special to him.”

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Mandela evaded the police during his fight against apartheid by disguising himself, even as a chauffeur. The media referred to him as “the Black Pimpernel” because of his police evasion tactics. “I became a creature of the night. I would keep to my hideout during the day, and would emerge to do my work when it became dark,” he says in his biography, “Long Walk to Freedom.”

The Madiba Shirt

The Madiba shirt was designed by Desré Buirski and first worn by Mandela at the dress rehearsal of the opening of South Africa’s first democratic Parliament in May 1994. Mandela wore this style of shirt many  times. A Madiba shirt is a batik silk shirt, usually adorned in a bright and colourful print.

What Question Would You Have Asked Mandela?

As we commemorate Nelson Mandela Day, learners at Holy Rosary School were asked if we were able to turn back time, what question would they have asked Nelson Mandela if they were given the opportunity and why.

Become Part of Madiba Day

Mandela Day is celebrated on 18 July and is a worldwide initiative to make the world a better place. It is hoped that this initiative will encourage people to make every day a Mandela Day Mandela Day is about changing the world for the better through positive change in your own life and in your community. Take action against poverty. Mandela said, “It is in your hands to make of our world a better one for all.” Become part of the global movement for good. Become involved this Mandela Day. Be the change you want to see.

Mandela’s Progeny

Nelson Mandela fathered six children with three wives and had 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren at the time of his death.
Mandela had four children—two sons and two daughters—with his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, who he married in October 1944. The couple’s first child was Madiba “Thembi” Thembekile,born in 1945. Then, in 1948 Makaziwe Mandela was born. Maki, as she was called, died at nine months of age. In 1950, Makgatho Mandela,a son, and in 1954, their second daughter was born. She was named Makaziwe Mandela in honour of their first baby girl. Three of Mandela’s six children are still living. Makaziwe is the only surviving child from his first marriage. (Madiba Thembekile died in 1969, and Makgatho died in 2005.) After his divorce from Evelyn, Mandela married Winnie Madikizela and they had two daughters: Zenani, or Zeni, in 1959 and Zindziswa (Zindizi) in 1960.

After his death Gordon Brown said in Parliament in the UK: He admired and respected Her Majesty, the Queen. And he told me that he wanted the Queen to invite an African rain princess from his tribe to a reception at Buckingham Palace – and he’d gotten nowhere with the diplomatic channels. So he decided to telephone her personally, and the story goes of the conversation – words that only Mandela could use: “Hello Elizabeth, how’s the Duke?” And while the official minutes say that the Queen was non-committal, he got his way.

Did You Know?

• Streets all over the world are named
after Mandela. That’s a given. But did
you know a prehistoric woodpecker was
named after him? Scientists named the
find Australopicus nelsonmandelai.
In 1973, the physics institute at Leeds
University also named a nuclear particle
the ‘Mandela particle.’

• Mandela had a cameo role in Spike
Lee’s 1992 biopic Malcolm X. He played
a teacher reciting Malcolm X’s famous
speech to a room full of Soweto school
kids. He refused to say the words “by
any means necessary” so Lee cut back
to footage of Malcolm X to close out the

Last Speech as President

In prison, Mandela would read William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus” to fellow prisoners. The poem, about never giving up, resonated with Mandela for its lines “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”


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