5 Unexpected Facts About Nelson Mandela

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Nelson-Mandela young

By Nigel Boys

The sad news of the death of former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, on December 5, has been heard all over the world and many are grieving the passing of this great leader of our times.

Although many believe Mandela to be a hero and saint, he has always shunned any such representation of himself.

The former anti-apartheid revolutionary leader, who was president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, spent his younger years herding cows after his birth in 1918 as the son of a tribal chief.

Here are some other facts that many people don’t know about the surprisingly humble man:

1.  Mandela spent 27 years in prison, most of it on the famous Robben Island, as an enemy of the apartheid government of South Africa and was declared to be a terrorist and traitor to his country. However, he obtained a law degree while he was there and fought against injustice for his fellow inmates.

This was no easy feat because he did not have special treatment while imprisoned and had to pummel rocks like every other prisoner. He was only allowed one visitor per year and two letters.

2.  Although most people know him as Nelson, he was actually born Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela. He certainly lived up to the meaning of his name which informally means “troublemaker” but literally “pulling the branch of the tree.”

3.  Mandela’s favorite food was tripe and although he had come a long way from his humble beginnings and time in prison, according to his granddaughter, Ndileka, it was still his favorite right up until his death.

Ndileka added that during his latest birthday party, while he could have served them just about any tantalizing dish in the world, the former president still chose to give his guests “samp,” a mixture of tripe and corn.

4.  The former revolutionary also held over 60 honorary degrees from various universities worldwide and was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The United Nations General Assembly also declared July 18 as an international day of freedom and named it “Mandela Day” in his honor.

5.  During his time in prison on Robben Island, Mandela was inspired to continue to fight against the oppressive government of South Africa by a poem from an English poet called William Ernest Henley, titled “Invictus.”

The great leader of our times will be sadly missed but his memory will go on.


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  1. Carolyn M.

    December 8, 2013 at 6:16 am

    Madiba was a lawyer and practiced law prior to being locked up on Robbin Island.

    • Pam

      December 9, 2013 at 10:43 am

      Thanks for confirmation. I was sitting here scratching my head. I guess there is only one unexpected fact. He liked Tripe. All others are well known to most who followed this wonderful gift to mankind.

    • Susan Rhodes

      January 23, 2014 at 9:34 am

      I thought so. I also recalled he was a practicing lawyer before his imprisonment. Such an easy fact to verify. I wondered why the writer made such an obvious error? It detracts from the article. The prison he was in and the way he was treated while he was there, would never have allowed such an educational opportunity anyway.

  2. Selina chavis

    December 8, 2013 at 7:22 am

    No work of evil stopped him.
    Good and faithful servant Mandella, you are pleasing to your God.

  3. Mariba Luba

    December 8, 2013 at 7:51 am

    My hero! God blessed this world with another great African leader as our great leaders of the past and certainly the present . Barack Obama is another who will also make his mark in history. There are many! I love being an African America! I am striving to leave ny mark also!

    • Bessie

      December 9, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      Don’t stop… we all should strive to leave a mark on the world.

  4. Amazing Grace

    December 8, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Mahatma, Malcolm, Martin, and Madiba. They so loved their people, that their Ideologies live on as our Beacon for Freedom and Equality… Whom will be our next towering Lighthouse Of Hope? Thank you Madiba. You lived your life and showed by example. I hope our youth study your teachings for many millennium’ too come. ~♥~

  5. craig garner aka Trouble

    December 9, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Although Mandela was indeed an extreme terrorist against apartheid when he was a young lion, 27 years of prison apparently broke his steadfast spirit and made him a changed man. After prison he had a much more concilliatory tone and was willing to forgive his enemy for all their transgressions. This is similar to Malcolm X after he went to Africa and discovered white Muslim brothers who were not racist. However those Afrikaner’s that killed the 36 children in Soweto should have been tried and executed. What of those who killed the great Steve Bilko, and millions of others who fought against that dreadful system. But more importantly what of those who benefited financially from that system. Will they every have to repay society.

  6. ericaf

    December 9, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Wasn’t he already a practicing attorney who had a law firm with Walter Sisulu and a founding member of the ANC before he went to prison? Per Mandela:A long walk to freedom? Correct me if I’m wrong, I’m open to new information.

  7. nelson mandela death date

    March 2, 2014 at 7:27 am

    Everything is very open with a really clear explanation of the issues.

    It was really informative. Your site is extremely helpful. Thanks for

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