• Nelson Mandela just before the first national elections in 1994. South Africa. (Hulton Archive)Source: Hulton Archive
He helped to end apartheid in South Africa and became the first democratically elected president - but other things that define this historic great.
Emily Nicol

18 Sep 2017 - 3:22 PM  UPDATED 18 Sep 2017 - 3:24 PM

His name

Nelson Mandela is known by more than a few names. His birth name is  – Rolihlahla –  an isiXhosa name meaning "pulling the branch of the tree" or "troublemaker". A name that seems fitting for the revolutionary South African activist and political icon.

Mandela was given his English name, Nelson by a missionary schoolteacher when he was in primary school, a custom that was quite common at the time with most school children in Africa (and here in Australia) who received 'christian' names. In later years, some called him by his clan name (from the village of Mvezo), Madiba, as a sign of respect and also Khulu, meaning 'great, paramount, grand.'

Charged under the Suppression of Communism Act 

At the age of 24, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) and took on leadership roles, helping form the ANC Youth League. Labelled a 'terrorist organisation' by the apartheid government, the ANC was recognised as such by other countries including Britain and the United States. The organisation and its members remained on terror lists for many years, finally being removed in 2008.

Prison Days

Whilst imprisoned, Mandela wrote a memoir, copies of which were placed in plastic containers and buried in a vegetable garden in the prison. Fellow prisoner Mac Maharaj, who was shortly due for release, was hoping to be able to smuggle it out, however when prison authorities began building a wall through the same vegetable garden the containers were discovered. Mandela subsequently had his study privileges removed as punishment.

The iconic number: 46664

The second time Mandela was imprisoned, he was given the number 466/64 as he was the 466th prisoner and the year was 1964. He had this number up until 1982 when he was moved to a different prison, Pollsmor. The original number however has been used reverentially in many causes, songs and even as the event name for a concert, honouring Mandela to raise awareness around HIV/AIDS, between 2003-2008 with artists such as Beyonce, Sir Bob Geldof and members of Queen taking the stage.

Places, Birds and Flowers

Countless honours and awards have been given to Mandela. One of the most notable was the Nobel Peace Prize for achieving the peaceful termination of apartheid -  but he's also had a number of places, discoveries and even a prehistoric bird named after him; a nuclear particle (the 'Mandela particle'), a prehistoric woodpecker (Australopicus nelsonmandelai) and an orchid (Paravanda Nelson Mandela) all carry on his name. 


Sing a song of Mandela

Many songs have been written about Mandela, perhaps inspiring the most songs out of any other icon. From U2 to Eddy Grant and legendary South African singer Lucky Dube, artists have made sure to immortalise the impact and inspiration that the iconic leader had worldwide.


Watch Madiba: The Nelson Mandela Story On Demand: