An Autobiographical Note by Nelson Mandela, 1964

Notes written by Mandela about himself while on trial for sabotage at the request of James Kantor, one of the accused against whom the charges were later withdrawn.

I was born in Umtata, Transkei, on 18 July 1918. My father, Chief Henry, was a polygamist with four wives. Neither he nor my mother ever went to school. My father died in 1930, after which David Dalindyebo, then acting Paramount Chief of the tribe, became my guardian.

I am related to both Sabata Dalindyebo, the present Paramount Chief of Tembuland, and to Kaizer Matanzima, Chief Minister for the Transkei. Both are, according to Tembu custom, my nephews.

I hold the degree of Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Africa, and am a qualified solicitor. I married Winnie, daughter of Columbus Madikizela, the present Minister of Agriculture in the Transkei, in 1958, whilst an accused in the Treason Trial. I have five children, three by a former marriage and two with Winnie.

My political interest was first aroused when I listened to elders of our tribe in my village as a youth. They spoke of the good old days before the arrival of the White man. Our people lived peacefully under the democratic rule of their kings and counsellors and moved freely all over their country. Then the country was ours. We occupied the land, the forests and the rivers. We set up and operated our own government; we controlled our own armies, and organised our own trade and commerce.

The elders would tell us about the liberation and how it was fought by our ancestors in defence of our country, as well as the acts of valour performed by generals and soldiers during those epic days. I hoped, and vowed then, that amongst the pleasures that life might offer me, would be the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to their struggle for freedom. At 16, as is our custom, I went to a circumcision school on the banks of the Bashee River, the place where many of my ancestors were circumcised. By the standards of my tribe, I was now a man ready to take part in the 'parliament' of the tribe Imbizo. At 23, my guardian felt it was time for me to get married. He loved me very much and looked after me as diligently as my father had, but he was no democrat and did not think it worthwhile to consult me about a wife. He selected a girl, fat and dignified, paid lobola108 and arrangements were afoot for the wedding. I escaped to Johannesburg.

I applied for a job at Crown Mines. I had left home with my nephew, who was four years older than I, Chief Justice Mtirara, now a member of the Transkeian Territorial Authority. It was arranged that he would start off as a learner mabalana (clerk) and I as a policeman. After a short time, it was said, when a vacancy occurred, I would become a clerk. I left the mines and worked for a year as an estate agent at £2 per month plus commission. It was the most difficult time in my life. In 1942 I was articled to a Johannesburg firm of attorneys - Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman. To Mr Sidelsky, I will always be indebted. Two of the experiences I had in the firm are worth recording. On my first day at the office the White senior typist said, 'Look, Nelson, we have no colour bar here. When the tea-boy brings the tea, come and get yours from the tray. We have brought two new cups for you and Gaur Radike -another African employee. You must use them. Tell Gaur about your cups. Be careful of him, Nelson, he is a bad influence.' I duly told Gaur, whose response was, 'I will show you. Do exactly as I do.' When the tea arrived Gaur boycotted the new cups and picked one of the old ones. I had no desire to quarrel with him or the senior typist, so for months I did not drink tea.

Some months later a new typist, also White, was in the habit of asking me for work when she had nothing to do. One day I was dictating to her when a White client came in. She was obviously embarrassed and, to demonstrate that I was not her employer, she took 6d. from her purse and said, 'Nelson, please go and get me some hair shampoo from the chemist.'

In 1944 I joined the African National Congress. The movement grew and in 1952 I was elected President of the Transvaal branch. The same year I became Deputy National President. I was ordered to resign in 1953 by the Nationalist Government. In 1953 I was sentenced to a suspended sentence of nine months' imprisonment for my part in organising the campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws. Then in 1956 I was arrested on charges of high treason. The case lasted for five years and I was discharged in March 1961. Early in April 1961 I went underground to organise the May strike, and have never been home since.

In January 1962, I toured Africa, visiting Tanganyika, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria. I also visited England. In all these countries I met the Heads of State or other senior government officials. In England I was received by Hugh Gaitskell, then leader of the Labour Party, and by Jo Grimond, leader of the Liberal Party.


© Liberation Archive 2005. Page generated at 21:22:11; 26 January 2005