Union Buildings And Mandela

Nelson Mandela: the Gauteng connection

Rolihlahla Mandela was born in the village of Mvezo, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, on 18 July 1918. His mother was Nonqaphi Nosekeni and his father, Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela.

1. Origins

Mandela Statue Union Buildings Cropped
“By ancestry, I was born to rule. Xhamela [Walter Sisulu] helped me understand that my real vocation was to be a servant of the people.”

Rolihlahla Mandela was born in the village of Mvezo in the Eastern Cape on 18 July 1918. His mother was Nonqaphi Nosekeni and his father, Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela. At the time of Mandela’s birth, his father was a counsellor to Jongintaba Dalindyebo, acting king of the Thembu people.

On the death of his father when Mandela was 12, he was sent to live in Mqhekezweni as a ward of Jongintaba. As a young man, Mandela became immersed in the narrative of the elders, particularly in stories of bravery during the wars of resistance. These stories made an impression on him and sowed the seeds of desire in him to make a personal contribution to the struggle for freedom from apartheid.

2. Education

On his arrival at primary school in Qunu, Mandela’s teacher, Miss Mdingane, allocated him the name “Nelson” in accordance with the then practice of giving all children “Christian” names.

Mandela received his junior certificate from the Clarkebury Boarding Institute and later matriculated at Healdtown, a Methodist school near Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape.

Although he started studying towards a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree at the University College of Fort Hare, he was later expelled for joining a student protest and was unable to complete his degree at the institution. 

He eventually completed his BA through the University of South Africa and returned to Fort Hare for his graduation in 1943.

After Mandela’s earlier banishment from Fort Hare, the King threatened him and his cousin Justice with marriage if they did not resume their studies. Daunted by the thought, the duo absconded, making their way to Johannesburg, where they arrived in 1941.

In the City of Gold, Mandela found work as a mine security officer and later as an estate agent, before doing his articles with the law firm Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman.

Alex Heritage project_mural

Alexandra Heritage Precinct

Mandela lived in a backyard room in Alexandra township when he first arrived in Johannesburg in the early 1940s. Today, the location is being transformed into a heritage precinct that will house a tourist information office, restaurant, shops and an interpretation centre.

An interactive exhibition will recount the history of the people, ideas and events that shaped Alexandra over the past century. A community archive and resource centre will serve as an archive for the township’s history and heritage.

Corner of Hofmeyr Street and 7th Avenue, Alexandra

He registered for an LLB degree at the University of the Witwatersrand, but left in 1952 without having graduated. It was only after his imprisonment in 1962 that Mandela once again turned to his law books, this time studying through the University of London. More than three decades later, in 1989, during his last few months in jail, Mandela finally received his LLB through the University of South Africa. The ceremony was held in Cape Town, but he graduated in absentia.

3. Political career

Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944 and was instrumental in establishing the ANC Youth League (ANCYL).

In 1944, he married Walter Sisulu’s cousin, Evelyn Mase, and had two sons, Madiba Thembekile and Makgatho, and two daughters, both called Makaziwe, the first having died while still in infancy. Mase and Mandela divorced in 1958.


Mandela House Museum

This address marks the home where Mandela lived with his family in Soweto. It was built in 1945 and Mandela lived here with his first wife, Evelyn Mase, in 1946. Following his divorce, Mandela and his second wife, Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela, occupied the home from 1958. It remained the Mandela family seat and he returned to Vilakazi Street on his release from prison in 1990.

The home has been painstakingly restored as a museum and provides thousands of visitors from all over the world with first-hand insight into the lives of members of the Mandela family. It is filled with photographs and memorabilia.

8115 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, Soweto

In 1949, the ANC adopted the Programme of Action to embark on mass action. In 1952, in a collaboration between the ANC and the South African Indian Congress, Mandela and activist Maulvi Ismael Cachalia orchestrated a campaign of civil disobedience in protest against unjust laws.

As a result, the government arrested 20 of those involved, including Mandela. They were charged under the Suppression of Communism Act and sentenced to nine months of hard labour.

As 1952 drew to a close, Mandela was “banned” for the first time and had to watch in hiding as the Freedom Charter was adopted in Kliptown on 26 June 1955.

4. The lawyer

Having both a BA degree and a diploma in law meant Mandela could finally practise law. He and fellow activist Oliver Tambo soon established South Africa’s first black law firm, Mandela & Tambo.

Chancellor House 2017

Chancellor House

During the 1950s, the office of Mandela & Tambo Attorneys was based in Chancellor House, opposite the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court. It housed a thriving law firm that defended black clients accused of breaking apartheid laws.

During the 1990s, the building became dilapidated and overrun by squatters, but in 2010 it was extensively restored and is recognised as a national heritage landmark that contains valuable archival material. Opposite the building is a sculpture by Marco Cianfanelli depicting a young Mandela, known as Shadow Boxer.

Corner Fox Street and Gerard Sekoto Street, Ferreirasdorp

5. The Treason Trial

Mandela was one of many activists arrested during a nationwide police swoop on 5 December 1955, which led to his appearance in the 1956 Treason Trial. The years-long trial saw 28 of the accused, including Mandela, acquitted on 29 March 1961. During the trial period, in 1958, Mandela married social worker Winnie Madikizela. The couple had two daughters, Zenani and Zindziswa. They got divorced in 1996.

6. Sharpeville Massacre

On 21 March 1960, police killed 69 unarmed people during a protest in Sharpeville against South Africa’s then pass laws. In the wake of this incident, South Africa declared its first state of emergency and, on 8 April of that year, banned both the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

Sharpeville Memorial 2016

Sharpeville Human Rights Precinct

The Sharpeville Human Rights Precinct was created in memory of those who died on 21 March 1960 during what became known as the Sharpeville Massacre. Pan Africanist Congress supporters protested against the “dompas”, a passbook that black South Africans were required by law to carry outside designated areas – or face arrest.

The Sharpeville memorial and precinct, opened by Mandela in 2001, features a wall detailing the names of the dead and 69 pillars representing each individual in a garden bisected by a stream.

Adjacent to the George Thabe Stadium, Sharpeville

“The time of conflict in our land is over. We must embrace one another on the basis of justice and nurture the extended family to which we all belong.”

Just before the Treason Trial ended, Mandela addressed the All-in African Conference in Pietermaritzburg on 25 and 26 March 1961. It was decided that he should request a national convention on a non-racial constitution from then Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd. The proviso was that, should Verwoerd decline, there would be a national strike against the country becoming a republic.

As soon as they were acquitted in the Treason Trial, Mandela and his colleagues set in motion plans for a three-day national strike. However, the strike action was thwarted by state security and in 1961 Mandela was asked to lead the ANC’s armed struggle by helping to establish Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation).

On 11 January 1962, under the assumed name David Motsamayi, Mandela secretly left South Africa to garner support for the armed struggle on the African continent and in England. He underwent military training in Morocco and Ethiopia before returning home in 1962. He was arrested in a police roadblock outside Howick in KwaZulu-Natal on 5 August while returning from a briefing with ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli.

The authorities charged Mandela with leaving South Africa illegally and with inciting strike action. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. He was sent to Pretoria Local Prison and in 1963 was transferred to Robben Island before returning to Pretoria later the same year.

At this time, police also conducted a raid at Liliesleaf, a secret hideout in Rivonia, Johannesburg, used by ANC and Communist Party activists. A number of Mandela’s comrades were arrested.

Lilies Leaf Unnamed 10
(Image: Liliesleaf )

Liliesleaf Farm

Liliesleaf, an isolated farmhouse, was chosen as a meeting place by the military wing of the then outlawed ANC liberation movement. A police raid in 1963 led to the Rivonia Trial, and the conviction and sentencing to life imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Andrew Mlangeni, Raymond Mhlaba, Ahmed Kathrada, Elias Motsoaledi and Denis Goldberg.

Today, Liliesleaf offers visitors a wealth of photographs, documents, first-person narratives, recordings and interactive exhibits on the life and times of these famous political activists.

7 George Avenue, Rivonia

“The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children.”

Mandela and 10 others appeared at the Rivonia Trial, and in June 1964 he and Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

While he was incarcerated on Robben Island, Mandela’s mother and his eldest son, Thembi, died, but he was not permitted to attend either funeral.

On 16 June 1976, during Mandela’s incarceration, Soweto students mounted a protest against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools. One of the first students killed during the rebellion was 12-year-old Hector Pieterson. Dozens of schoolchildren were killed during the protest.

Pieterson was honoured with a memorial erected in Soweto in the 1990s and, in 2002, by the opening of the nearby Hector Pieterson Museum.

Img 4866

Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum

The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum commemorates the role of South Africa's students in the struggle against apartheid and their June 1976 protests against an inferior education. During a protest on 16 June by high school students from Soweto against Afrikaans as a language of instruction, many children were shot by the police.

News of the deaths spread, leading to uprisings countrywide in which hundreds died. One of the first to be killed by the police was 12-year-old Hector Pieterson, who is commemorated at the memorial and in archival material in the museum.

8287 Khumalo Street, Orlando West, Soweto

“We must ensure that globalisation benefits not only the powerful, but also the men, women and children whose lives are ravaged by poverty.”

In March 1982, Mandela, Sisulu, Mhlaba and Mlangeni were transferred to Pollsmoor Prison near Cape Town, joined later in the year by Ahmed Kathrada. Following prostate surgery, Mandela returned to prison in November 1985. Then Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee had visited him in hospital and Mandela later initiated talks about a meeting between the government and the ANC.

In August 1988, Mandela was diagnosed with tuberculosis and hospitalised. He was released to a house on the grounds of Victor Verster Prison near Paarl, where he spent the last 14 months of his jail term. On Sunday 11 February 1990, nine days after the ANC and the PAC were unbanned and four months after his remaining Rivonia comrades were released, Mandela was released.

He immediately engaged in official talks to end white minority rule and in 1991 was elected ANC president. In 1993, he and President FW de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize and on 27 April 1994 he voted for the first time in his life in South Africa’s inaugural democratic election.

7. The president

On 10 May 1994, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president. On his 80th birthday in 1998, he married Graça Machel, his third wife.

Union Buildings

Pretoria’s Union Buildings are the official seat of the government of South Africa and house the offices of the South African president. The 285m-long sandstone building designed by Sir Herbert Baker in 1910 is surrounded by terraced gardens overlooking the city.

Although visitors may not enter the buildings, the gardens are open to the public and include a 9m-tall bronze statue of Nelson Mandela.

Government Avenue, Pretoria

“We cherish our Constitution and want to ensure that its rights become a living reality for all our people.”

As he had promised, Mandela stepped down in 1999 after a single term as president. He continued working with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund that he had set up in 1995, and established the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation.

Nmf Com 2017

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory/Nelson Mandela Foundation

The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory houses the office Mandela used following his presidential term. It is the headquarters of the Nelson Mandela Foundation that he established. The building houses an exhibition on Mandela’s life and promotes his legacy through displays and dialogue sessions. Visit the centre and walk around Mandela’s old office while viewing personal items such as his letters from prison and his Nobel Peace Prize.

107 Central Street, Houghton Estate, Johannesburg

Nelson Mandela Bridge Ssimg 179 Sat Asset
(Image: South African Tourism)

Nelson Mandela Bridge

The Nelson Mandela Bridge was added to the Johannesburg skyline in 2003. When illuminated at night, the bridge reflects the colours of South Africa’s “rainbow nation”.

The bridge links the cultural hub of Newtown with the business sector of Braamfontein in the Johannesburg city centre. It took just under two years to build and is the largest cable-stayed bridge in southern Africa.

Braamfontein, Johannesburg

“All views are entitled to be aired. It is through vigorous and constructive debate that together we will chart the path ahead.”

Throughout his life, Mandela never lost sight of his goal to see all South Africans benefit from democracy, equality and learning. He died at his home in Johannesburg on 5 December 2013.

Mandela has been immortalised through statues and memorials throughout South Africa and across the world. His legacy is recalled and honoured annually on his birthday, 18 July – Nelson Mandela International Day – through selfless acts of kindness towards the disadvantaged, elderly and marginalised.

Nelson Mandela Square
(Image: Nelson Mandela Square)

Nelson Mandela Square

Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg’s upmarket Sandton precinct houses an impressive statue of Mandela, a popular photographic subject.

The square is flanked by trendy malls and restaurants, making it a great stop for shopping and eating.

Rivonia Road, Sandton

Freedom Park

Freedom Park is a 52ha heritage park that was established in Salvokop, Tshwane, in memory of those who sacrificed their lives in the struggle for a free and democratic South Africa. Landscaped gardens, monuments, statues and sculptures call to mind the many heroes who helped build a South Africa free from apartheid.

The most impressive monument is a 697m-long Wall of Names featuring the names of 75 000 South Africans who lost their lives in the fight for freedom. The garden was created as a place for reflection.

Salvokop, off Potgieter Street, Pretoria