Nelson Mandela obituaries: from tribal prince to world statesman

Obituaries for Nelson Mandela tell the story of an unruly young man who grew into a great leader

LAST UPDATED AT 14:53 ON Fri 6 Dec 2013

EXTENSIVE obituaries, many running to several thousand words, recount Nelson Mandela's life story in exhaustive detail. Here, we extract the key details from the seven phases of his life.

Early life

"Rolihlahla Mandela - the given name means "to pull a branch of a tree", or more colloquially, "troublemaker" in Xhosa - was born in a remote village in the Umtata district of the Transkei in 1918. His father was a member of the Thembu royal house who died young. The boy, brought up in a peasant society, herding cattle and goats at 5 and initiated by tribal ceremony at 16, was in effect adopted by the Regent of the Thembus, Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, and was educated with a view to his becoming a counsellor or adviser to the Xhosa king."
 - The Times

"Mandela greatly enjoyed university, particularly boxing and athletics, and, on the strength of his first-year studies in English, anthropology, politics, native administration and Roman-Dutch law, nursed an ambition to become a civil servant and interpreter - about as high a position as a black man might aspire to in those days."
- The Guardian

"Studying law at Fort Hare, he fell in with Oliver Tambo, another leader-to-be of the liberation movement. The two were suspended for a student protest in 1940 and sent home on the verge of expulsion. Much later, Mr. Mandela called the episode - his refusal to yield on a minor point of principle - ‘foolhardy.'
- The New York Times

Activism

"When Nelson Mandela took the helm of the ANC Youth League in 1947, he used the post to develop contacts throughout the country, laying the foundations of his political future. He was now broadening his concept of African nationalism. In 1948 the Youth League's manifesto conceded that "the different racial groups had come to stay", and that Indians in South Africa, no less than the Africans, were an oppressed group, to be welcomed as allies. By the 1950s Mandela had emerged along with Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, another close friend, as a leading non-racial democrat."
- The Daily Telegraph

"In 1961, with the patience of the liberation movement stretched to the snapping point by the police killing of 69 peaceful demonstrators in Sharpeville township the previous year, Mr. Mandela led the African National Congress onto a new road of armed insurrection. It was an abrupt shift for a man who, not many weeks earlier, had proclaimed nonviolence an inviolable principle of the A.N.C. He later explained that forswearing violence "was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon."
- The New York Times

On trial

"Mr Mandela stood trial for incitement and leaving the country without a passport [in 1962] and was jailed for five years and sent to Robben Island Prison for the first time. He was behind bars when a group of his comrades were arrested in 1963. They were charged with sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial - named after the farm raided by police. In June 1964 - following a lengthy trial condemned by the UN Security Council - Mr Mandela and seven other activists were sentenced to life in prison."
- Sky News

"Looking back, it seems inconceivable that those accused of treason at Rivonia could have been hanged, but such an outcome was entirely plausible. A member of the Johannesburg bench privately claims that he saved them by persuading the trial judge, Quartus De Wet, to change his mind over a cup of tea in the judicial common room, just before he returned to court for sentencing. De Wet, it seems, had been set on hanging."
- The Guardian

In prison

"'This is the island, here you will die,' a warder had told Mandela when he had first arrived on Robben Island in May 1962. But Mandela responded with a blunt Anglo-Saxon obscenity, immediately establishing that he was not going to be bullied. His enduring strength of will was the more remarkable in that, for more than a decade, there was little international pressure for his release."
- The Daily Telegraph

"Mandela and the ANC believed that the liberation of black South Africa could be expected within a few years - the winds of change were already blowing through the continent. Few anticipated just how long life imprisonment would be for Mandela, and the stoicism that would be demanded of him."
- The Guardian

Freedom

"In 1989, President PW Botha surprised the world by inviting Mandela to tea. The two men talked about a possible formula for ending apartheid and beginning a transition to democratic majority rule. And when Botha retired and a new president, FW de Klerk, was elected, real progress began to be made. ... The world watched on television as [Mandela] emerged from his long incarceration. But he reappeared not as the weak old man many had expected but spry and vigorous from his long years of physical and intellectual discipline."
 - The Independent

Presidency

"His first year [in the presidency] gave an indication of the breadth of vision and boldness he brought to it. He sent out sophisticated signals. Though he began to wear African batik shirts, even on formal occasions, he also donned the jersey of the Springbok rugby team, a previously hated symbol among blacks, for the 1995 Rugby World Cup - a gesture widely seen as a major step in the reconciliation of white and black - and he wore it again as he presented the winner's trophy to the Springbok's Afrikaner captain Francois Pienaar. He sacked Winnie Mandela from her Cabinet post, following allegations of corruption, took tea with the widows of white politicians and flew to the white enclave of Orania to visit the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, the primary architect of apartheid."
- The Independent

"Perhaps his greatest error as President was his failure to recognise and publicise the scourge of Aids. In retirement he admitted that he had been advised not to raise the subject before the 1994 election because it would not prove to be a popular issue. It was believed that black South Africans who had endured the policing of many aspects of their lives under apartheid would not take kindly to their sexual habits being discussed and examined."
- The Times

Legacy

"To the wider world he represented many things, not least an icon of freedom but also the most vivid example in modern times of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. ... His fundamental creed was best expressed in his address to the sabotage trial in 1964. ‘I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination,' he said. ‘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.'"
- The BBC

Nelson Mandela quotes: the great man in his own words · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.