facts about Nelson Mandela's childhood

Nelson Mandela is a widely respected and acknowledged figure. His work and sacrifices in ending apartheid in South Africa earned him both a Nobel Peace Prize and the South African presidency. However, many people do not know much about Mandela’s childhood.

Top 10 Facts about Nelson Mandela’s Childhood

  1. Mandela was born into the Xhosa culture
    The Xhosa culture is the second-largest cultural group in South Africa. They are smaller only than the Zulu, who are their long-term rivals despite numerous cultural similarities. The Xhosa are known for being a peaceful people and live mainly in the southern part of the country.
  2. He was a member of a royal family and was next in line to be chief
    Mandela was born in 1918 to the Thembu tribe, part of the Xhosa people, as a member of the tribe’s royal family. His father served as chief of the village he grew up in, and when he died, Mandela was groomed by a tribal regent to take a leadership position at a later age.
  3. He had a very large family growing up
    Nelson Mandela’s mother was the third of his father’s four wives. The chief is expected to take multiple wives from different families within the tribe. Through them, Mandela had nine sisters and three brothers.
  4. Nelson was not his real name
    One of the more surprising facts about Nelson Mandela’s childhood is that Mandela’s given name at birth was Rolihlahla. In Xhosa, this means “pulling the branch off the tree” or “troublemaker”. The English name Nelson was given to Mandela by a schoolteacher. This was a common practice among black South Africans.
  5. He was the first in his family to get a formal education
    Although born into a family of importance, Mandela was the first to gain a formal education. He received this as part of his grooming for future leadership.
  6. He attended missionary and Methodist schools
    Nelson Mandela’s childhood was filled with training and education. He attended a local missionary school, a boarding school and then a Methodist secondary school.
  7. Mandela was an athlete in school
    While attending a Methodist secondary school, Mandela was a multi-sport athlete. He was involved in boxing as well as track and excelled at both.
  8. He attended the University of Fort Hare
    Mandela went on to college at the University of Fort Hare. This was an elite South African school that was the only “Western-style” higher education available to black citizens in the country.
  9. He left school more than once while in college
    While at Fort Hare, Mandela and other students were sent home for boycotting certain university policies. He also later left school to avoid an arranged marriage and completed his bachelor’s degree by correspondence in Johannesburg.
  10. He studied law at the University of Witwatersrand
    Mandela studied law at the University of Witwatersrand, where he earned a degree and became involved in the fight against racial discrimination that made him famous.

Nelson Mandela may seem like a larger than life figure, but he was still just a man. His experiences influenced who he would become and how he would come to view the world. These facts about Nelson Mandela’s childhood help us to understand who he was as both a leader and a man.

– Megan Burtis

Photo: Flickr