How to Think Like Mandela

How to Think Like Mandela

by Daniel Smith

Get inside the mind of Nelson Mandela—one of the 20th century's great revolutionaries and the most inspiring statesman of our time

Nelson Mandela was one of the few men in recent history who genuinely changed the world—how we think about our place in society among other ethnic, political, and religious groups and how perseverance, moral

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Get inside the mind of Nelson Mandela—one of the 20th century's great revolutionaries and the most inspiring statesman of our time

Nelson Mandela was one of the few men in recent history who genuinely changed the world—how we think about our place in society among other ethnic, political, and religious groups and how perseverance, moral conscience, and honest dialogue can help us achieve anything. Throughout his long life, he faced struggles against odds and opposition many of us can only begin to understand: he was imprisoned for decades for his beliefs yet ultimately stood by them and saw them vindicated by a nation. This book explores his many speeches; the forms of resistance—both peaceful and not—that he employed to reach his ends; and how he accomplished his achievements. Comprehensive and informative, this is the ideal book for admirers of this great man.

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Michael O'Mara Books
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How to Think Like Mandela

By Daniel Smith

Michael O'Mara Books Limited

Copyright © 2014 Michael O'Mara Books Limited
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78243-240-1


Landmarks in a Remarkable Life

1918 Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela is born on 18 July in the Transkei, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, to Gadla Mphakanyiswa and Nonqaphi Nosekeni.

1920 The Mandela family moves to the village of Qunu, to where Nelson will return in his retirement.

1925 Mandela begins his schooling, the first of his family to attend. His teacher gives him the name Nelson.

1927 Gadla Mphakanyiswa dies. Mandela is made the ward of Jongintaba Dalindyebo, acting Thembu regent, and is brought up in the royal household.

1939 Mandela enrols at Fort Hare University to train as a civil servant.

1940 He is dismissed from Fort Hare without graduating for his role in a protest against the university authorities.

1941 Faced with an arranged marriage, Mandela flees to Johannesburg, where he is befriended by Walter Sisulu and begins working for a legal firm.

1942 Mandela becomes involved with the African National Congress (ANC).

1943 He enrols to study law at Witwatersrand University

1944 With Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, he joins the ANC and co-founds the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). He also marries Evelyn Mase.

1945 Evelyn gives birth to a son, Madiba Thembekile.

1947 Mandela is elected to Transvaal's provincial ANC executive. Evelyn gives birth to a daughter, Makaziwe, who dies aged nine months.

1948 The National Party is voted into power and implements its programme of apartheid.

1949 The ANCYL responds with a Program of Action, a campaign of passive resistance incorporating mass strikes, boycotts and other protests.

1950 Mandela joins the ANC National Executive and assumes the presidency of the ANCYL. Evelyn gives birth to a son, Makgatho.

1952 Mandela and Oliver Tambo establish the first black law firm. The ANC launches the non-violent Defiance Campaign. Mandela is convicted of violating the Suppression of Communism Act and given a suspended sentence. He is also banned from attending public meetings. Nonetheless, he is elected Deputy President of the ANC and begins drawing up plans for underground campaigns.

1954 Evelyn gives birth to a daughter, Pumla Makaziwe (Maki).

1955 The ANC eestablishes the Congress of the People, an organization representing all races to evolve a set of core principles for a new South Africa. These principles are brought together in the 'Freedom Charter'.

1956 In December, Mandela and some 150 others are arrested. Their subsequent trial for high treason will last several years.

1957 Mandela and Evelyn divorce.

1958 Mandela marries Winnie Madikizela.

1959 The Pan African Congress splits from the ANC. Parliament establishes a number of 'tribal homelands' and begins the enforced resettlement of blacks, a move vehemently opposed by the ANC. Winnie gives birth to a daughter, Zenani.

1960 Winnie gives birth to a daughter, Zindziswa (Zindzi). In March, the Sharpeville massacre focuses international attention on the apartheid regime.

1961 Mandela and his co-defendants are acquitted in the so-called 'Treason Trial'. He subsequently goes underground and becomes Commander-in-Chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the ANC's newly established armed wing.

1962 Having returned from intelligence-gathering tours of Europe and Africa, Mandela is convicted of leaving the country without permission and inciting workers' strikes. He is convicted to five years in prison.

1963 Following a raid on an ANC building in Rivonia, Mandela is one of several ANC leaders charged with attempting to violently overthrow the government.

1964 In April, Mandela delivers his landmark Rivonia address from the dock. He is found guilty as charged, sentenced to life in prison and sent to Robben Island.

1968 Mandela's mother dies. He is refused permission to attend the funeral.

1969 Mandela's eldest son, Thembi, is killed in a car crash. Again, the prison authorities refuse him permission to attend the funeral.

1974–5 Mandela works on his biography in secret.

1976 He rejects a conditional reduction of his sentence.

1980 The exiled Oliver Tambo spearheads the ANC's 'Release Mandela' campaign.

1982 Mandela is transferred from Robben Island to the mainland Pollsmoor Prison.

1983–4 Vioolence spreads from the black townships of Johannesburg in protest at rent increases and the failure of the government to grant blacks increased representation in parliament. Strikes and boycotts are supplemented by increased activity from MK guerrillas.

1985 Mandela rejects Prime Minister P. W. Botha's offer of freedom in return for a renunciation of violence as a state of emergency is declared. However, informal channels of contact between Mandela and the government open up.

1986 Mandela begins talks with Prime Minister P. W. Botha but does not immediately tell his ANC colleagues. Winnie, meanwhile, draws international attention when she makes a speech that is widely interpreted as a call to violence.

1987 News of Mandela's private talks with the government spreads. Reactions from within the ANC range from strong support to accusations of betrayal.

1988 Mandela is transferred to Victor Verster Prison after a bout of tuberculosis. In December, four youths are abducted and beaten by members of the Mandela United Football Club (Winnie Mandela's bodyguards). One of them, fourteen-year-old Stompie Seipei, is killed.

1989 Botha is succeeded as Prime Minister by F.W. de Klerk. Talks with Mandela continue and de Klerk begins to free political prisoners and accepts the principle of 'power sharing'.

1990 On 2 February de Klerk lifts the bans on the ANC. Nine days later Mandela is freed from prison. He becomes Deputy President of the ANC. Talks between the ANC and the National Party begin on the future of South Africa. Mandela and de Klerk continue private discussions against the background of an upsurge in violence in many black townships, especially in Natal.

1991 Winnie Mandela is convicted for her role in the 1988 kidnappings that culminated in the death of Stompie Seipei. Her sentence of six years in prison is reduced to a suspended sentence and fine on appeal. Her husband, meanwhile, is elected ANC President.

1992 Mandela and Winnie announce their separation. There is tension between Mandela and de Klerk as the former implicates the police in the rising tide of violence sweeping the country and the ANC orchestrates a general strike. In September, Mandela and de Klerk sign a Record of Understanding to investigate the activities of the police and to establish an elected constitutional assembly to prepare a new national constitution.

1993 Mandela appeals for calm in the aftermath of the murder of prominent ANC figure Chris Hani on 10 April by a white extremist. Mandela and de Klerk are jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

1994 The ANC wins a majority in the country's first democratic, multi-racial general election. On 10 May, Mandela is inaugurated as President of South Africa.

1995 The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund is established.

1996 Mandela and Winnie divorce. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is inaugurated.

1998 On July 18, his eightieth birthday, Mandela marries Graça Machel.

1999 The ANC wins the general election. The presidency passes from Mandela to Thabo Mbeki. The Nelson Mandela Foundation is established.

2000 Mandela announces that he is retiring from public life.

2001 He is diagnosed with prostate cancer.

2002 The Mandela Rhodes Foundation is established.

2003 Mandela speaks out against the US-led war in Iraq.

2004 Mandela 'retires from retirement' as his health declines.

2005 Mandela's son by Evelyn, Makgatho, dies from AIDS.

2007 A statue of Mandela in unveiled in Parliament Square, London. Meanwhile, the Mandela-inspired Elders group is established.

2009 The UN marks the first International Nelson Mandela Day on 18 July, his birthday.

2013 Mandela spends long periods in hospital as his health declines. He dies on 5 December, aged ninety-five, at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, surrounded by his family.


Believe You Can Make a Mark

'By ancestry, I was born to rule ... my real vocation was to be a servant of the people.'


When Nelson Mandela was born there was little to suggest that he was destined to become one of the most important figures in the global politics of his time. However, he never lacked for self-confidence, always possessing a deep-rooted belief that he was worth as much as any other human. This is not to say that he thought there were not people who were 'better' than himself – whether that meant wiser, intellectually smarter, physically superior or gifted in some other way. Instead, it was a reflection of Mandela's fundamental faith in meritocracy; the idea that no individual should be judged on the chance circumstances of their birth but on their character and actions instead.

That a black child in early twentieth-century South Africa would be so imbued with the ideals of meritocracy was something of a rarity, given that the society was one where ethnic background had a decisive impact on your life prospects. Nonetheless, at a time when millions had their lives utterly blighted purely because of the colour of their skin, Mandela managed to remain faithful to the notion that all humans enter the world as equals.

He was born on 18 July 1918 in Mvezo, a small village in Transkei in the eastern part of what is now the Eastern Cape province. By the time of his birth, the majority black population had for centuries been subjugated by an uneasy mix of Dutch and British settlers. An example of their institutionalised mistreatment was the Native's Land Act of 1913. This piece of legislation regulated the black ownership of land at a time when only about seven per cent of the nation's territory was in their ownership, despite the fact they comprised over two-thirds of the population.

It is conceivable that if Mandela had been born into poverty in a backwater township, the world may have been deprived of his influence. Instead, he was brought up in a family descended from Thembu royalty (the Thembu being one of twelve Xhosa-speaking chieftaincies). In accordance with the rules of patrimonial descent that operated among the chieftaincies, Mandela's father, Gadla Mphakanyiswa, was ruled out from holding the highest offices but was a local chief and served as an advisor to the Thembu king. As the son of his father's third wife, Mandela himself would have expected a similar role in adulthood.

So while Mandela's quote at the beginning of this section (which he made in 2003) could be open to misinterpretation, he was nevertheless born into an elite. When he was still very young, his father was found guilty of insubordination to a local magistrate and lost both his title and much of his wealth. Nonetheless, the young Mandela would have continued to receive a certain level of deference from his contemporaries and got to see at close hand how traditional African power structures operated.

He held a prominent role within his immediate family unit too, being the first son of his mother, Nonqaphi Nosekeni, and older brother to three full sisters (his father had a total of thirteen children, so there were several half-brothers and sisters too). In a strongly patriarchal society, he would have felt the burden of responsibility even more acutely with the death of his father in 1927. It was an early lesson in how to deal with personal loss and tragedy – a tough but valuable lesson for a man who would experience both with dispiriting regularity throughout his life.

Following his father's passing, he came under the direct patronage of the Thembu regent, Jongintaba Dalindyebo. He moved to the regent's extensive personal compound, known as the 'Great Place', where he received yet more exposure to the mechanisms of tribal government. He saw up close the all-male, open-air tribal meetings at which a range of opinions on disparate matters were asked for and offered until a plan of action was broadly agreed upon. This was consensual democracy in action and it would inform Mandela's entire adult career. In a speech he made shortly after his release from prison in 1990 he reflected on some of the lessons he had learned in this period:

In our custom and history, the chief is the mouthpiece of his people. He must listen to the complaints of his people. He is the custodian of their hopes and desires. And if any chief decides to be a tyrant, to take decisions for his people, he will come to a tragic end in the sense that we will deal with him.

The young Mandela had been given the tools to make a difference and learned some of the strategies needed to do so most effectively. Crucially, he also had the will to take up the gauntlet.


Challenge the Status Quo

'When people are determined, they can overcome anything.'


Mandela's heritage did not fill him with arrogance but it did supply him with a certain level of self-confidence that fed his instinctive refusal to bow to anyone without good reason. Undoubtedly, he was also imbued with a rebellious spirit from his earliest days. Nelson was not the name given him by his parents. Instead he was called Rolihlahla Mandela. Was there a certain glint in the eye that his parents quickly recognized? It seems possible, given that Rolihlahla may loosely be translated as 'trouble-maker'.

This inclination to challenge combined with a series of other factors in his youth to create a 'perfect storm'. His father's death propelled him early into the role of 'man of the household' so that as a pre-teen he already felt responsible for the fates of those around him. Meanwhile, his love of his homeland was unshakeable. Growing up in a traditional thatched hut and helping to raise livestock, phases of his childhood were idyllic. Rural South Africa came to represent a sort of earthly paradise for him – he would in later years speak wistfully of 'the veldt, the green open spaces, the simple beauty of nature, and the pure lines of the horizon'. Having been brought up within the Methodist Christian tradition, he would have been familiar with the idea of Eden. He was also aware that the native population had been and continued to be deprived of their Eden by the excesses of white rule.

By the time he was in his teens, Mandela – in common with teens everywhere – was ready and eager to kick against the world. His was no aimless rebellion, though. He was already fixing his focus on what would become his life's struggle. While in prison in the mid-1970s, he worked on a volume of autobiography that was never to be published. In it, he described how he felt his destiny even as a student: 'At college I had come to believe that as a graduate I would automatically be at the head, leading my people in all their efforts.'

A letter he wrote in 1976 from his cell on Robben Island to the then Commissioner of Prisons, Gen. Du Preez, offers further evidence of his indomitable spirit and his refusal to bow to others: 'I have never regarded any man as my superior, either in my life outside or inside prison.'

Like all the great rebels, he understood that his life's work would bring with it many setbacks to cope with. Indeed, dealing with the setbacks is part of the work. In 1998 he addressed a reception at the White House in Washington. By then his prison days were behind him and instead he was the celebrated President of the fully democratic 'Rainbow Nation'. But even then, the shadow of the youthful rebel was apparent as he highlighted the life-affirming nature of struggle: 'If our expectations – if our fondest prayers and dreams – are not realized, then we should all bear in mind that the greatest glory of living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall.'


Embrace Education

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


In a country where the illiteracy rate among the black population stood at around 90 per cent at the 1921 census, Mandela always valued the power of education to precipitate social progress. He was the first member of his family to attend school(according to Mandela: 'Mother could neither read nor write and had no means to send me to school'), going to a local Methodist-run institution from the age of seven with the financial assistance of his clan.


Excerpted from How to Think Like Mandela by Daniel Smith. Copyright © 2014 Michael O'Mara Books Limited. Excerpted by permission of Michael O'Mara Books Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Daniel Smith is an editor and a writer whose other books include How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes and The Sherlock Holmes Companion: An Elementary Guide.

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