Nelson Mandela biography for kids: Learn why Madiba is important

Nelson Mandela (born 18 July 1918 – died 5 December 2013) was the president of South Africa. Even before he became president, he was known as a civil rights activist. 

Civil rights activists are people who fight against social injustice. They leave a lasting impact on the lives of people who were oppressed. Nelson Mandela led a life that changed the lives of millions of people in his country.

Historical records reveal how people were maltreated because of certain characteristics they possess.

Some people were treated because of their race, age, gender, skin color, ethnicity, qualifications, and more.

Though many people are still suffering because of these characteristics to date, people like Nelson Mandela stood up in fights against them.

Who was Nelson Mandela?

Nelson Mandela biography
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) was a lawyer, activist, politician, philanthropist, and served president of South Africa.
NameRolihlahla Mandela
Other namesNelson • Madiba • Dalibunga
Born18 July 1918
Mvezo, South Africa
Died5 December 2013 (aged 95 years)
Johannesburg, Gauteng
NationalitySouth African
Alma materUniversity of Fort Hare
University of London
University of South Africa
University of the Witwatersrand
WivesEvelyn Ntoko Mase (1944-1958)​
Winnie Madikizela (1958-1996)​
Graça Machel (1998 -2013)
Political partyANC
AffiliationsSouth African Communist
Resting placeMandela Graveyard, Qunu, Eastern Cape
ParentsGadla Henry Mphakanyiswa (father)
Nosekeni Fanny (mother)
Notable workLong Walk to Freedom

When was Nelson Mandela born?

Nelson Mandela’s parents gave birth to him on 18 July 1918 in a village called Mvezo. The village could be found in Transkei, an unrecognized state in the southeastern region of South Africa (1976-1994).

His father’s name was Henry and his mother was Nosekeni Fanny. Growing up, he was called Rolihlahla.

He answered to the name until he was seven years old. At school, his teacher began to call him “Nelson” and then he was eventually addressed by the name.

Rolihlahla was born into a family with a royal background. Henry, his father, was chief of the Tembu tribe.

His great-grandfather was the king of the tribe. Their lives changed when the government stripped the chief of this title after a disagreement.

Mvezo was no longer home they walked extra miles to Qunu. Though Nelson did not spend a lot of years with his father who died when he was 9 years.

Where did Nelson Mandela go to school as a kid?

Nelson Mandela education
Nelson Mandela studied Law at the University of the Witwatersrand.

His family understood the importance of education and registered him in school from a young age. He did not disappoint and was serious with his studies.

After, he enrolled to study at the University of Fort Hare. Mandela had to move to the largest city in South Africa, Johannesburg, to study Law. He studied at the University of the Witwatersrand.

As usual, he took his academics seriously and qualified as a lawyer when he was twenty-four years old in 1942.

What did Nelson Mandela fight for?

Growing up, Nelson Mandela noticed that people were divided according to their skin color. South Africa is a country with many of people different races and cultural backgrounds.

White people dominated the country and controlled everything in the country. They attended good schools, lived in comfortable homes, had good healthcare, and every other nice thing.

The higher number of black people suffered and had little access to basic amenities and high-paid jobs. 

The inequality was also extended to their rights, they were not allowed to engage in elections.

Nelson Mandela among others disagreed with the situation of his country at that time. He taught everyone should exercise equal rights and privileges.

He then became a politician and joined the political party ANC, which stands for African National Congress, in 1944.

The political group campaigned against inequality. The group voiced for equality between all races either white or black. 

The move worsened the situation of the country even more in 1948 after he introduced apartheid. The system contained policies on the relations between the whites and blacks in the country.

The primary aim of the law was to separate the lives of both races and forced them to do things differently. White and black individuals couldn’t eat or school, at the same place.

Why is Nelson Mandela important?

With time, Nelson Mandela grew to a prominent figure in the political group African National Congress (ANC). He played many notable roles that have helped the party to date.

He set up and lead the ANC Youth League, which was specifically for young people.

In disagreement with the new law, he traveled to South Africa in support of a non-violent protest against the governing racial laws.

The authorities were not happy with Nelson Mandela and arrested him in 1956 for treason. Treason is a crime of betraying one’s country either by attempting to assassinate or overthrow the government.

Nelson Mandela was taken to Johannesburg Prison and while he was in prison the government introduced new laws.

All groups against the apartheid systems including the African National Congress were banned.

Nelson Mandela and other activists in the country saw it as the time to push even harder for change. So they did and used peaceful protests as they fought for equality.

In 1961, Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists created a secret military group – Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Why was Nelson Mandela arrested?

Nelson Mandela arrest
On 12 June1964, Nelson Mandela began a 27 year jail sentence.

The anti-apartheid activism posed a great danger for Nelson Mandela and he knew. The secret army they formed and their plans would cause them more harm if it leaks to the government.

He then hid and put on dresses to disguise himself. In 1962, the government arrested him while he returned from Algeria. Mandela received a five-year sentence but the burning fire was fueled.

In the next year, the apartheid police discovered some documents that belonged to Umkhonto we Sizwe. They also found the weapons of this secrete army.

This made this worse for Nelson Mandela and fellow anti-apartheid activists who were seven in number. Each of them received a life sentence.

I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Nelson Mandela said closing his statement from the dock.

At first, Nelson Mandela spent eighteen years of his sentence on Robben Island.

He was moved to Victor Verster Prison in Paarl. Although he spent so many years in prison, he still held on to what he believed in.

Nelson Mandela was offered freedom twice but refused and stood firm on what he believed in.

Why was Nelson Mandela released?

Nelson Mandela freedom
Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana, 1997.

The world called in one voice for the freedom of Nelson Mandela. Many years now, the world had asked the government to end the apartheid regime.

The groups against the apartheid can now spread their wings as they’ve gained worldwide support.

Nelson Mandela was released in 1990 by the then president of South Africa FW de Klerk.

After he left prison, Mandela did continue from where he had stopped but this time he has the backing of the president.

In 1991, he became the president of the African National Congress (ANC) and joined forces with FW de Klerk to end the apartheid.

In 1993, their efforts were recognized and smiled home with the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the 1994 general election, both the black and white citizens were allowed to carry out their civic rights.

The ANC emerged winners of the election and Nelson Mandela served as president. He was the first black president of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela video for kids

The life of Nelson Mandela for Kids is a learning video.

When did Nelson Mandela die?

Nelson Mandela decided to live a life out of the public scene in 2004. He spent more time with his wife Graça Machel (1998-2013). 

Nelson had married two wives before Evelyn Mase (1944-1958), who was a South African nurse, and Winnie Madikizela (1958-1966), who was also an activist. In 2013, he succumbed to a lung infection at the age of 95.

Is Nelson Mandela still remembered?

Good deeds are not easily forgotten and though he might be dead, his values and what he fought for will live on.

Long Walk to Freedom is a book he wrote and it contains all the struggles and challenges he encountered as he fought for freedom. Dates and events are also set aside in his remembrance. On his birthday, July 18th, the world recognizes it as Nelson Mandela Day.

P.S. All images appearing on this content are the properties of Nelson Mandela®


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