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7 Facts You Didn’t Know about Mandela that Will Inspire You to Visit South Africa

by Jodi Lucas

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There are some people that come into this world and inspire us all. From Mother Teresa to Gandhi, Anne Frank, and DR Martin Luther King, these are just some of the men and women who have completely changed the course of history and made a positive contribution to the world and everybody in it.

Nelson Mandela was one of these key figures in history. He saw himself as a servant of South Africa’s people for who he helped change the face of the country and the future of its citizens. He was a leader in the fight for racial equality, and the first black president of South Africa, all after having served 27 years in prison.

But, these aren’t the only reasons why, in 2009, the United Nations declared that International Nelson Mandela Day will be celebrated every year on July 18.

So, in honor of his birthday, we’ve rounded up 7 things you probably didn’t know about Nelson Mandela that will inspire you to go on a safari in the country that he helped shape! 

1. He was born to a royal family of Thembu tribe
Nelson Mandela

It is really inspiring to think that the man who helped change the world grew up in a tiny village in the Eastern Cape. On the 18th of July, 1918, Nelson Mandela was born in Mvezo. His birth name was Rolihlahla Mandela, which in Xhosa language means “to pull the branch off a tree” and it also means “troublemaker” (which is kind of ironic since he did cause a lot of trouble for the Apartheid government).

In the old South Africa, it was common practice to give kids an English name so that it would be easy for the Englishmen to pronounce. The name “Nelson” was given to him by one of his teachers and is believed to have been inspired by a British admiral, Horatio Nelson, who is also considered to be a national hero. Coincidence? I think not!


2. He was the first person in his family to receive formal education
mandela quote

Not only was Mandela from a really small village, but he was also the first person in his family to receive “proper education” and went on to earn a degree in law. Together with Oliver Tambo, he opened the first black-run law firm in 1952 which provided affordable legal counsel to African people who had broken Apartheid-era laws.

Even in his university days, he was an activist. Not long after his first year at the University of Fort Hare, which was the only Western-style university in South Africa that allowed Africans to study, he was kicked out for participating in a boycott against policies of the university. He later joined the University of Witwatersrand and was an active member in movements were against racial discrimination. While he was in prison, he graduated in law from the University of London.

3. He had a chance to get out of prison and declined it

You’d think that, given the opportunity, every prisoner would take a deal to get out of prison. But not Nelson Mandela. After 23 years in prison, he was offered a deal by president Botha to be released if he dropped the armed struggle against Apartheid.

On principle alone, Mandela declined stating “What freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”

4. Being prepared to die for the cause saved him from execution

Mandela believed in the fight against Apartheid so much that he was willing to die for it. And, ironically, that is what saved him from being executed. On the 20th of April 1964, the South African icon took to the stand during the infamous Rivonia Trials and gave a three-hour speech in his defense.

The speech was given the name “I Am Prepared to Die”. It is considered one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century and a key moment in the history of South African democracy. In this speech, he says “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.”

5. He made an appearance in Malcom X

Malcolm X is perhaps one of the most famous American films about the legendary human rights activist that the film was named after. Not only was Malcolm a key spokesman for the Nation of Islam, but he was a prominent spokesman for the civil rights movement.

Knowing how closely the two are related by circumstance, it is no real surprise that Nelson Mandela had a brief appearance as a civil rights activist in Spike Lee’s award-winning film. In this short but powerful appearance, Nelson Mandela addresses the topic of human rights but refused to deliver the last line of the script which read “ by any means necessary”, fearing that the government would use it against him if he did.

6. He was a “terrorist” who won a Nobel Peace Prize

In December 1993, Mandela was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, but he was not removed from the U.S. terror watch list until 2008! Take a moment to consider this astonishing fact.

7. There is a psychological phenomenon named after him
Nelson mandela birthday

Have you ever been convinced that something happened in a certain way, only to discover you’ve always had it all wrong? Well, this is what the Mandela Effect is. This strange phenomenon is defined as “an observed phenomenon in which a large segment of the population misremembers a significant event or shares a memory of an event that did not actually occur.”

What does Nelson Mandela have to do with it? Well, do you remember when he died on December 5th, 2013? If your answer to this was “No, he died in prison in the 1980s”, then you have fallen prey to the Mandela effect. It is argued that this is the first global instance of the Mandela effect and so, the phenomenon was named after him.

There are hundreds of interesting facts about this revolutionary man and each one of them gives you a glimpse into the person who helped make South Africa such an amazing place to travel to. Mandela Day is about more than just remembering this legendary man, it is about aspiring to be the very best person that you can be because the greatest changes come from humble beginnings.

Don’t just admire this historic man from afar. Get out there and see the beauty that he helped create while on an epic cultural safari in South Africa

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