Nelson Mandela was one of the true giants of 20th-century politics. Not only was he South Africa’s most popular president, he was instrumental in ending apartheid, fighting AIDS in Africa, and promoting global peace. However, he was also human, and that humanity led to a number of decisions at odds with our Western image of him. To honor his passing, here are 7 surprising facts about one of Africa’s greatest-ever leaders.
1 . HOW THE NELSON NAME COME ABOUT :
He was born on the 18th day of July, 1918 and was named Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela which means trouble maker. When he went to school, a teacher in his school christened him “Nelson” as they practiced a certain tradition that led to Mandela receiving the Christian name. The missionaires gave children Christain names as that was the tradition back then.
2 . NELSON MANDELA’S PRISON NUMBER WAS 46664.
The number indicates that he was the 466th prisoner of 1964. He embraced the number, making it the name of his HIV/AIDS awareness campaign and the name of a series of charity concerts.
3 . NELSON MANDELA OVERCAME MANY PERSONAL TRAGEDIES.
He finally did get to marry for love in 1944, to Evelyn Mase, but their relationship was soon marred by tragedy. Their second child, Makaziwe, died at just nine months old. They had two other children: Madiba Thembekile (Thembi), who died in a car crash while Mandela was in prison in 1969, and Makgatho Lewanika, who died of AIDS in 2005. Mandela had two other children with his second wife Winnie, 20 grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren.
4 . NELSON MANDELA’S WORK HAS BEEN RECOGNIZED FAR AND WIDE.
During his lifetime, Mandela received more than 695 awards, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.
5 . NELSON MANDELA’S ELECTION AS SOUTH AFRICA’S PRESIDENT BROKE NEW GROUND.
Mandela’s inauguration as president in 1994 was historic for at least four reasons (and probably many more). He was South Africa’s first democratically elected president. He was also the country’s first black president, and the oldest person elected to the office. His inauguration united the largest number of heads of state since U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1963.
6 . HE USED SPORTS TO BRING THE RACIALLY DIVIDED COUNTRY TOGETHER.
Mandela saw national reconciliation as one of the most important tasks of his presidency. As covered in Invictus, one key moment came when South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup. While black South Africans despised the national rugby team, Springboks, Mandela encouraged them to support the team. When they faced New Zealand in the final, Mandela appeared in a Springboks jersey with captain Francois Pienaar’s number on the back and the mostly white crowd erupted in cheers. After the team’s win, Pienaar was asked what it was like to have “62,000 fans supporting you here in the stadium.” He answered, “We didn’t have 62,000 fans behind us. We had 43 million South Africans.”
7 . THERE’S NOW A GLOBAL HOLIDAY IN HIS HONOR.
In 2009, the United Nations declared that Nelson Mandela International Day will be celebrated every year on July 18 (his birthday). The purpose of the day is to honor Mandela’s legacy and promote community service.