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Mandela’s Hidden Legacy: 5 Lesser-Known Stories from South Africa’s Hero

Discover 5 lesser-known stories about South Africa's hero, Nelson Mandela. From his love for gardening to playing saxofone.


The story of Nelson Mandela represents the tireless battle of a black African leader against the apartheid system established in South Africa in the late 1940s, which lasted for over four decades. 

Nelson Mandela. Image: Pixabay

After 27 years in prison, accused of sabotage by the white minority that ruled the country, Mandela was finally released and received a warm welcome from the crowd that awaited him in the streets. Years after, he became the first democratically elected president of South Africa and the first country’s black leader.

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Almost ten years after his death, Nelson Mandela continues to be loved and admired around the world, becoming the protagonist of films, receiving awards, inspiring books, and having his life story as an example of strength and resistance.

To know even more about this South African figure, check these 5 Lesser-Known Stories from South Africa’s Hero.

With a trajectory marked by a life of courage and resilience, fighting against injustice and oppression, Nelson Mandela has, in addition to his inspiring life story, many curious facts that are little known by the general public. Check out some of them below:

Nelson Mandela was an amateur boxer

Yes, you got that right! Nelson Mandela was an amateur boxer during his youth. He began training in the sport while he was a student at the University of Fort Hare, and continued to box while he was in prison on Robben Island. 

Boxing was very important to Mandela because it helped him to build physical and mental strength, as well as discipline and resilience. In his autobiography, he wrote that boxing was a way to “toughen myself up and prepare myself for the struggle ahead.”

On another occasion, the former president stated, “I do not like the violence of sport, but I am drawn to boxing for its science, how bodies move to protect themselves.”

Mandela became passionate about gardening

During his imprisonment on Robben Island, he tended to a small garden, which helped him find solace and peace in the midst of harsh conditions. According to Mandela himself, the practice while in prison was able to offer simple but lasting satisfaction. Even after being released from jail, he continued to take care of his garden.

Nelson Mandela knew how to play the saxophone

It turned out that Nelson Mandela was a talented saxophonist. During his time in prison on Robben Island, he was part of a brass band formed by political prisoners and played tenor saxophone. 

According to his bandmates, he was an excellent musician and often played to cheer up the other prisoners. After his release, he continued to play the saxophone privately and occasionally participated in musical performances.

His birth name wasn’t Nelson

Registered as Rolihlahla Mandela, at the age of nine, his Methodist elementary school teacher decided to give Mandela an English name: Nelson. “Rolihlahla” is from the Xhosa language, one of the 11 official languages of the country, spoken by approximately 18% of the population. It means “pulling a branch off a tree,” but in colloquial language, it corresponds to “troublemaker” or “disturber.”

Founded the first law firm formed by and for black people

In partnership with Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela opened the first law firm in South Africa formed by black people in Johannesburg in 1952. The company, called Mandela & Tambo, provided legal services to the black population and fought against racial discrimination in the system country’s judiciary.

This initiative was an important step in the fight against apartheid and for the recognition of civil rights for black people in South Africa.

Nelson Mandela: his legacy lives on

The actions of the Nelson Mandela International Day, celebrated on July 18, were expanded in December 2015 by the UN to cover the promotion of humane conditions of incarceration. For this purpose, the Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, better known as Nelson Mandela’s Rules, were adopted.

Nelson Mandela does not just belong to South Africa, but to the whole world, being a true icon of the struggle for human rights and an eternal source of inspiration for future generations.

About the author  /  Iana Power

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