#NelsonMandelaDay: Revisiting the life and quotes of Madiba

On Nelson Mandela’s 101st birthday, we look back at his exceptional life story and some of his most inspiring quotes.

by Nikhil Sreekandan

Every year on July 18, the world marks the birthday of the late humanitarian revolutionary and the former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela by celebrating Nelson Mandela International Day.

It was back in 2009 when the UN General Assembly first observed Nelson Mandela International Day, in recognition of the South African leader’s contribution to the culture of peace and freedom, and his devotion towards humanitarian causes.

As #MandelaDay celebrates a decade of solidarity and global support, the UN continues to encourage citizens across the world to perform an act of kindness and to give back the way that Mandela did throughout his lifetime.

A statement on the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s website reads: “Mr Mandela gave 67 years of his life fighting for the rights of humanity. All we are asking is that everyone gives 67 minutes of their time, whether it’s supporting your chosen charity or serving your local community.”

On the occasion of Mandela’s 101st birthday, we look back at the exceptional life story of this champion of humanity.

Childhood & Education

Nelson Mandela was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918, into the Madiba clan in the village of Mvezo in Transkei, South Africa. His mother was Nonqaphi Nosekeni and his father was Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela.

When he was around 10 years old, his father died and he was adopted by Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the acting regent of the Thembu people. Mandela was given the same status and responsibilities as the regent’s two other children and attended a Wesleyan mission school, the Clarkebury Boarding Institute and Wesleyan College. His teacher Miss Mdingane gave him the name Nelson, as is the custom of giving school children Christian names.

In 1939, Mandela enrolled at the University College of Fort Hare, the only residential centre of higher learning for blacks in South Africa at the time, for a Bachelor of Arts degree. But, he failed to complete his studies as he was expelled for joining in a student protest.

He later completed his BA through the University of South Africa and went back to Fort Hare for his graduation in 1943.

Entering Politics

Mandela became involved with the anti-apartheid movement after joining the African National Congress (ANC) in 1942 and helped set up the African Nationa Congress Youth League (ANCYL).

Mandela rose through the ranks of the ANCYL and in 1952 was named the National Volunteer-in-Chief of the Defiance Campaign, a campaign of civil disobedience against six unjust laws by the ANC and the South African Indian Congress.

In 1956, Mandela and 150 others were arrested and charged with treason for their political advocacy, which led to the 1956 Treason Trial.


Mandela was arrested and imprisoned in 1962, and served 27 years in prison, split between Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison, and Victor Verster Prison.

Throughout his imprisonment, he had rejected at least three conditional offers of release.

It was when Frederik Willem de Klerk replaced President P.W. Botha and lifted the ban on the ANC, removing restrictions on political groups and suspending executions that Mandela finally agreed to a release.


In 1991, Mandela was elected ANC President to replace his ailing friend, Oliver Tambo. And, in 1993, President FW de Klerk and Mandela jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work toward dismantling apartheid in South Africa.

On April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first democratic elections and Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the country’s first black president on May 10, 1994, at the age of 77, with de Klerk as his first deputy.

From 1994 until June 1999, Mandela worked tirelessly to bridge the gap between whites and blacks and use the young republic’s love for rugby to promote reconciliation.

In 1995, South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup, and that year Mandela was also awarded the Order of Merit.


After stepping down from the presidency, he continued to work with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and later established the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation.

In 2001, Mandela was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer and by the time he turned 85, he was back in his native village of Qunu for a life of retirement. He died on 5 December 2013.

Nelson Mandela never wavered in his devotion to democracy and equality, and the story of his life is an inspiration to us all.

“Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.”

Nelson Mandela

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