Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – The 21st Century Icon

Many people have died this century, but few people can be compared to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s popularity due to his achievements. The first African name of Rolihlahla was associated with a trouble maker. We can take a close look in this post about what made some people refer to him as an icon of the 21st century. His nicknames were Madiba and Dalibunga especially in South Africa where he was born. Elsewhere, many people were just comfortable talking about him or referring to him as Mandela. His popularity rose because of not just being a revolutionist in the political arena, but he was also a philanthropist. After reading his biography in LONG WALK TO FREEDOM one can understand his passion to free all South Africans better.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela


Nelson Mandela was born in the Madiba clan on July 18th
1918 in the Cape Province of South Africa. He was a Xhosa by tribe and belonged to a royal family with his father being the Chief of the Madiba Clan. His mother was Nosekeni Fanny, the third wife of his father’s four wives. His father’s full names were Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa Mandela. As a local chief, he was also appointed as a counsellor to the white magistrate. He was dismissed for corruption, but his son, Mandela, was not told the truth about it.


Before his father’s death, Nosekeni Fanny took her son to live in her paternal father’s village called Qunu, a more remote area than Nelson had known. Here, there were no cars to be seen let alone wide roads leading to any big town. Nelson grew up with his two sisters but spent time looking after cattle and playing with boys outside his mother’s kraal.


Nelson’s father joined his family at Qunu Village. It did not take long before his father died of a lung-related disease. It is not clear whether Gadla had instructed his wife to take Nelson to the big palace where the current chief, Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, was to be the guardian to Nelson.


The palace provided new experiences to Nelson. Instead of the traditional way of learning everything practically by herding cattle and folk tales at night, Nelson started grasping the new atmosphere of education under the Methodist Church. Attending school and Church on Sundays had great impact on his later life. It is here that the name NELSON was handed out to him by his primary school female teacher. It was common practice that time for teachers to give English names to their pupils for the better pronunciation of names.


Through plain hard work, Nelson qualified to attend a Methodist’s administered secondary school called the Clarkebury Boarding Institute. It was here that he realized he was good at track events as well as a good boxer. However, he did not allow these activities to hinder his academic progress and so in 1939 he qualified to be enrolled at University of Fort Hare, the most prestigious university admitting elite black students from all over Africa. He was elected to the Student Representative Council not knowing that there were much more important elections for him in life in which he would emerge victoriously.

Nelson Mandela (left) as a youthful boxer


Nelson Mandela always often wore a beaming smile

Influenced by stories of peace before the arrival of white men told by visitors to the palace, Nelson thought LAW would be a good course to pursue at the university. The course would lead him to acquiring one of the most prestigious jobs held by black men in the midst of the Apartheid political system at that time. Having determined what course to pursue, he advanced himself in this field at the University of Witwatersrand and the University of South Africa.


His dream of working as a guard or doing clerical work in order to complete his degree through correspondence was fulfilled in Johannesburg. After his completion of studies, he became a political activist and joined the African National Congress in 1942. As a leader who had been inspired by Mahatma Ghandi’s political system of non-violent, he worked with his colleagues such as Walter Sisulu, Thabo Mbeki, Oliver Tambo, Denis Goldberg and another anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada who was popularly known as Kathy.


In 1961, Nelson Mandela co-founded “Umkhonto we Sizwe” (Spear of the Nation) which became an armed wing of the African National Congress. Because of the new stance taken to bring about political change by organizing demonstrations and other political activities to fight Apartheid, Nelson Mandela was thrown into prison in 1962.
When he was arrested for the second time in 1964, he was given the prison number 46664 on Robben Island. This number was given as a name to a global non-profit organization that spearheaded HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaign; as a reminder to Mandela’s sacrifices towards the fight against apartheid.

While in prison, Mandela met Ahmed Kathrada and the two prisoners encouraged each other for the most part of Mandela’s twenty-seven years imprisonment. People supported Nelson Mandela in one way or another. One such true friend was an American called Bob Brown. According to the Washing Post of June 30, 1990, “Brown bought them a van, he says. For the past three years he’s supported the family, including three children and two relatives, to the tune of $75,000 a year, he estimates.”


Demonstrations began in the early 1980’s to have Nelson Mandela freed not only within South Africa, but in other countries as well. Eventually pressure on the Apartheid regime was mounting from many countries and different continents. Frederick De Clerk as the South African president at that time continued to have discussions with Nelson Mandela. After weighing his passion and genuineness for all South Africans to live in harmony, Frederick De Klerk released Nelson Mandela after twenty-seven years of imprisonment.


Nelson Mandela Swears in

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was sworn in as president on 11th May 1994

When the first free and fair elections were organized in South Africa, Nelson Mandela scooped the presidency as the first black South African President. In the same year in 1993, Nelson Mandela together with Frederick De Klerk was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. During his period as president from 1994 to 1999, Nelson Mandela’s desire was to uplift the standard of living for the black people who had been marginalized for a long time. He achieved quite a lot in this area and people greatly respected him for this and often pronounced him as MADIBA to refer to his clan.


Nelson Mandela brokered many peace deals in countries where there was political instability. Peace and ceasefire agreements were eventually signed out of respect for him. Some of these peace agreements included Burundi.


After retiring from the political scene, Nelson Mandela continued to be influential and would invite important businessmen both from within and outside South Africa to pledge towards the building of schools and health centres in black townships. The residents of such townships were very appreciative of this gesture.


Out of deep respect for Nelson Mandela, the world football governing body, FIFA, granted the privilege to host the 2010 World Cup to South Africa. It was a great success since it was hosted with no incident.


Nelson Mandela was married to Evelyn Ntoko Mase from 1944 to 1958 and gave birth to Madiba Thembi, Maki, Makgatho and Pumla Maki. Winnie Madikizela joined him in marriage from 1958 to 1996 and gave birth to Zindzi and Zenani Dlamini. The third wife was Grace Machel from 1998 to 2013.

Mandela with his wife Graca

Mandela shares a light moment with his wife Graca


Nelson Mandela passed away on Thursday 5th December 2013; may his soul rest in eternal peace. He was given a well-deserving burial service befitting the 21st Century icon he was.


Barrack Obama (the head of state at the time) and the past United States of American presidents had intimate talks with Nelson Mandela or said something after admiring and encouraging him in his quest to achieve philanthropism. Even after his death in 2013, messages about him come out of the White House. The Washington Post has many pictures about this matter from President Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. They awarded him in various categories which included bravery and special leadership.


The journalists could not be left out in following Nelson Mandela’s influence. They kept on quoting whatever he said and would easily publish them. Here are some of these popular quotes and they have been used by journalists to influence thousands of their readers and listeners:

Nelson Mandela quotes

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

“Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.”

“Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.”

“No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated.”

“Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”

“Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will.”

Other quotes from Nelson Mandela

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

“We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”

Nelson Mandela Prisoner 46664 Hoodie

Customized Mandela T-Shirts


34 thoughts on “Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – The 21st Century Icon”

  1. What  a great icon he was? Mandela  performed a great work for his country  he freed alot of people from bondage and captivity ,and also he happened  to be the first black president in  south Africa  can you see how great  he was?he was very passionate about his people and country what a great man in history God bless Mandela  thanks for making us know more about our great icon

    1. You are right Rose, Mandela through his great work represented the marginalised in South Africa during the apartheid regime. He remained the hope of a race and a role model around the world to people who were fighting against injustice and oppression.
      However, he had to pay a price for it. He sacrificed his freedom and was incarcerated for 27 years in three prisons. He sacrificed his family life for the struggle too.

  2. What an excellent biography of Nelson Mandela. I didn’t know much about his childhood and I enjoyed reading that. Nelson Mandela was an outstanding human being, a great man, and I love how you honor his memory with this post. The quotes are beautiful. I already knew some of them, but there were others I didn’t know yet.

    Great article, thanks for sharing!

    1. Christine, your comment to this post honours him as well. There are so many memorable things Nelson Mandela did in his life that cannot be captured in one article. It is from reading more information about him that we get to unravel new facts we never knew. 
      My favourite quote is “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”


  3. I remember when I first heard of Nelson Mandala. It was actually through a conspiracy theory that he was dead but then wasn’t because of the Mandala effect, which was need after him. I began looking him up.  I found his life story to be so inspiring!  He really was a man of the people in my opinion. 

    1. Mandela always believed that liberation was for everyone and not for an individual. He cared about the less fortunate and downtrodden and his values transcended racism. This is what cut him out as a man of the people.
      I am glad Jessie you found him inspiring as I did. Thank you for your comment.

  4. This was a very interesting read. I know some about Mandela’s later years, but I’ve never read much about his formative and childhood years before. I’ve been meaning to read The Long Walk To Freedom for a while now, and after reading your great summary of his life I’m even more interested.

    1. Emily, I would urge you to read The Long Walk To Freedom to get to know more about Mandela. The book gives you a deeper insight into the life of the legend. The movie version with the same title can also give you the visual picture of the struggle he went through to break apartheid in South Africa. 

  5. Great post you have written here and I really fancy this. Of a truth, Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest gift that was bestowed on the Africa continent as a whole. I really like him and the lot of achievements and the way he led his life. Truly impactful and well worthy of emulation. Thank you so much for expatiating on his life and the various contributions and influences. A true man with a life worthy

    1. Rodarrick, you are right to state that Mandela was a gift for Africa. It is from him that we learn that forgiveness can heal a broken relationship, and that once you identify your purpose in life and apply courage, dedication and sacrifice, what appears impossible can be achieved. He quotes have inspired and uplifted many during challenging or hard times. 

  6. Thanks for the topic!

    Interesting topic! There is certainly more to be said. But you have brought up the most interesting things on the topic in an interesting way and they are capturing the reader.

    You have also successfully linked the related shirts to the bottom of the page.

    Unfortunately, I have no experience on the subject.

    I appreciate!

    1. Thank you, Janne for your kind feedback about the article. It is encouraging to note that you found it captivating and interesting though you had no experience with the subject. I effort to remind the world of one of the greatest icon in the world has surely paid off. 

  7. Amazing. I appreciate your article exactly how i appreciate Nelson Mandela.

    He represent a hero for me. The greatest gift we have on this earth is freedom. He managed to offer this to thousands of people. He loved his country, but he loved people more. I hope that what has been left behind is not erased and always remains in our memories.

    if the world were full of Mandela, we would all be happier.  

    Thank you for this biography. Good luck and all the best !! 

    1. Nimrodngy, reading your statement, “if the world were full of Mandela, we would all be happier” confirms the gift that he had that should be in all of us if world peace is to be enjoyed. 

      He is quoted to have said, ” Your freedom and mine cannot be separated”, after the government had attempted in 1985 to free him on condition that he disengages from all political activities. He could not stand sacrificing the freedom of his people against apartheid for his freedom.  This what made him a unique individual and a memorable one at that. 

  8. Hi, thank you for this well-written article.

    Nelson Mandela is easily one of the most iconic figures of the last century.  I remember as a teenager in the nineties watching the news of his release and later presidency of South Africa.  I literally watched history in the making although at the time I was too young to fully appreciate the history of him and South Africa.

    Apart from his biography, Long Walk To Freedom, can you recommend any other books relating to Nelson Mandela that would be of interest if I wanted to learn more?

  9. The hard work will lead to great results. Nelson was always having that mindset of peace, and he didn’t get distracted by any other activities even though he loved boxing. Nelson Mandela is an inspiration for everything he achieved, thinking about people, and not his benefit.  

    You have covered everything about him in such a great article. I hope we can find more people like him in the future to rule the real peace in the world. 

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Andres, hard work indeed leads to great results; and allow me to add that hard work with focus leads to extraordinary results. As you stated he had talent as a boxer (Muhammed Ali was his sports idol) and was a good lawyer. He could have settled for a comfortable life but chose to focus on the struggle against apartheid, though it seemed like fighting a losing battle. But with perseverance, we now enjoy reading and watching the wonderful history he created.

      Thank you Andres for your kind feedback and comment.

  10. I have always been a big fan of Mandela. When in school, we were told about his heroics but we didn’t learn so much as all his history that dates back this long. It is a good thing that you can give this information. I agree that he is a big icon as well who has thought the importance of peace of selflessness. I like this a lot. Thanks!

    1. You as a fan on Nelson Mandela makes the two of us!! 
      What you missed in school about Nelson Mandela and his struggle can always be got from the internet and I am glad that you have read this post and liked it. 
      By writing about this great icon and evening reading more about him; his legacy lives on.

  11. Great man of courage! Nice to read about his life. I didn’t know that much about him so reading your article made me discover how much he has sacrificed and achieved for peace, human rights and freedom! It is such a shame that such good men like him have been emprisoned and treated like criminals. Such injustice. But his fight paid off. Becoming the 1st black South African president is his ultimate victory over injustice! Great article, thank you!!

    1. Injustice still exists in this world but we can always draw inspiration from Nelson Mandela.
      To promote cohesion. dialogue and justice, the Nelson Mandela Foundation was set up in 1999 to not only promote policy decision-making but also to provide a platform for public dialogue on important social issues. This promotes oneness in humanity and victory over injustice.

  12. Before now I have heard and read a lot about Nelson Mandela and he is one of the few African leaders that is well known all over the world for their deeds in their various countries. I have had great interest in this man for this contribution to the freedom of the black people in south Africa during the aparthied era. I am indeed a big fan of this hero and my favorite quote is “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

    1. Benson, it delights me to find a fellow Nelson Mandela fan. He was a gift to South Africa as a country, Africa as a continent and to the world. He was not willing to take the peace prize he was awarded in 1993 before the human rights violations in Turkey were resolved. Its shows that his fight for human rights transcended the borders of South Africa and qualifies your favourite quote.

  13. I have once been to South Africa for vacation and during this period I had the chance to see the statue and that triggered my interest in him which when I heard it i was amazed. Nelson Mandela is a humanitarian that can’t be forgotten by so many people around the world and especially amongst the people of Africa. I hope to see people follow his steps worldwide and the world would be a better place.

    1. I concur with you Bella, Nelson Mandela was a humanitarian hero that we should all try emulate. He supported over 28 charities and foundations notably 46664, Chris Tucker Foundation, Diana Princess of Wales memorial fund and Goal4Africa. He has inspired many world leaders and I hope through them the world will be a better place.

  14. Intertesting post!
    Nelson Mandela had a tremendous influence on a lot of people and you clearly show that here.
    I had no idea he did so much in his life. Being imprisoned for 27 years and then becoming president of South Africa would have already been an incredible accomplishment but he did much more than that.
    The quotes he said give you a good idea of what kind of person he was and how important education was to him.
    I greatly enjoyed reading this post!
    Thanks for sharing this information!

    1. Mandela struggled for the abolition of apartheid and the price was 27 long years in prison. This in addition to imprisoning his wife was a way of breaking his spirit in the fight for freedom.
      You are right Jesse to note that Mandela knew education was key. He believed in a change in the education system that allowed children to exploit their similarities and common goals while appreciating the strength in their diversity.

  15. It does not matter where you come from or what you do but the question is…are you making a positive impact to people? Even through hardship Nelson Mandela managed to be the best leader there is…..he inspired alot of people….its encouraging to know that his inspiration remains in our hearts……he was and is still a hero….

  16. The influence Mandela had on the struggle for freedom for all people in South Africa was so strong. I recall the numerous songs that we danced to calling for freeing Mandela.
    He set the standards for African leaders on governance so high that many struggle to emulate.

    1. Music played a huge role in keeping morale and giving hope to the people engaged in the struggle against apartheid. Despite the censorship, musicians still found subtle ways of putting the message across. Popular South African musicians like Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela continued to release music critical to the apartheid regime despite being forced into exile. Non-South African musicians too played a key role in helping create awareness around the world and this mounting pressure on the government.
      You can listen to music in tribute to Nelson Mandela by clicking ==>here

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