Nelson Mandela

Questions and Answers

Question: When was Nelson Mandela born?

Answer: According to his biography at, Nelson Mandela was born on 18 July 1918. After his birth, his parents gave him the name Rolilahla. It was this African name that was later on supplemented with the English first name Nelson, given to him by his teacher, Miss Mdingane, as the name he should answer to in school.

Question: Where was he born?

Answer: He was born in Transkei, South Africa.

Question: Who were his parents?

Answer: His father was Hendry Mphakanyiswa, chief of the Thembu tribe of the Xhosa nation, South Africa. He was also known as Henry Mandela (Mandela being the name of the family chieftainship), and his mother was Nosekeni Fanny, who later converted to Christianity.

Question: Why is he also called ‘Madiba’?

Answer: Madiba is his clan name, telling people that he was a member of the Madiba clan (named after an eighteenth century Thembu tribe chief). In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela explains: “I am often addressed as Madiba, my clan name, as a sign of respect.”

Question: What is his educational background?

Answer: Nelson Mandela started his schooling at the local mission school. He graduated from the University College of Fort Hare in Alice, Eastern Cape, at the end of 1942 with a BA degree. In early 1943, he enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg for a bachelor of law degree, but he never completed his LLB. After several failed attempts, in 1952 he decided to do the qualifying exam that would allow him to practice as a fully-fledged attorney. He got his law degree in 1989.

Question: Why was Nelson Mandela sent to jail?

Answer: Nelson Mandela was arrested and jailed because he was accused of treason by the South African government. In 1944 he joined the African National Congress (ANC), which challenged the South African ruling party’s apartheid policies. He went on trial for treason in 1956-1961 and was acquitted in 1961. Mandela formed the military wing of the ANC, the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), which went underground after the ANC was banned in 1960. He was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment with hard labour. When many leaders of the ANC and the MK were arrested for plotting to overthrow the government by violence, Nelson Mandela was also brought to stand trial with them, and he was one of eight accused that were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Question: Where was he jailed?

Answer: He was jailed at the Robben Island Prison, 12 kilometers away from Cape Town, off the coast of South Africa.

Question: How long was he jailed in Robben Island?

Answer: He was jailed for 18 years before he was moved to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland, staying there until 11 February 1990 when he was finally released.

Question: He was also known as ‘The Black Pimpernel’? Why?

Answer: The press called Nelson Mandela ‘The Black Pimpernel’ during his clashes with the South African authorities because of his ability to avoid the police, using several disguises, a favourite of which was a chauffeur.

Question: What happened to him after he was released?

Answer: He was elected president of the ANC in 1991 and became the first democratically elected President of South Africa in 1994.

Question: When was Nelson Mandela awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? And why?

Answer: In 1993, Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing it with Frederik Willem de Klerk, president of South Africa at the time, “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.”


Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, London: Little, Brown and Company, 1994

“Nelson Mandela and the Rainbow of Culture” by Anders Hallengren

First published 30 May 2008

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