Anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela began life in the tiny South African Village of Mvezo and became the first black president of South Africa. A charming new biography for children has been published to tie in with the July 2018 commemoration of a hundred years since his birth, telling his incredible tale of triumph in the face of adversity…

Nelson grew up feeling happy and free. But as he got older, Nelson realised that black South Africans were not really free at all. Only white people were allowed to vote, and have a say in how the country was run. It was dangerous to speak out against this, but Nelson did not let fear stop him. He set out to change the system.

One day, a family friend suggested that he should go to school. Rolihlahla was proud and excited – no one in his family had been to school before. Nelson had his own dreams for the future. He wanted to become an interpreter or clerk. These were some of the best jobs a black man could get in South Africa at the time.

Some of Nelson’s new friends were members of the African National Congress (ANC). The ANC wanted non-white Africans to have the right to vote, rather than being ruled by a whites-only government. Nelson was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was leading peaceful protests in India, to try and end British rule without fighting.

In 1944, Nelson, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo set up the ANC Youth League. They wanted to get more supporters and make the government take notice.

In 1948, a new government was elected with the slogan “the white man must always remain boss”. They introduced a system of laws and rules called apartheid, forcing white and non-white South Africans to live apart. A white and a black person could not get married. They could not even share a table in a café or play sport together. If a black person failed to follow these rules, they were breaking the law, and could be sent to prison.

Along with other groups who were fighting for change, the ANC formed the Congress Alliance. Together, they wrote the Freedom Charter – a promise to fight for freedom and democracy for ALL South Africans. People around the world began to criticize South Africa’s apartheid laws. But the government and the police would not accept any blame. Instead they blamed the ANC and banned the whole organisation. But Nelson and the ANC did not give up. He helped the ANC to form a secret army, known as the ‘Spear of the Nation’. He travelled to other countries to ask for help and trained as a soldier.

Nelson came back to South Africa in 1962, with a false passport and a new name. But soon after his return, he was stopped and arrested. In 1964 Nelson and seven other men were found guilty and sentenced to life at South Africa’s maximum-security prison on Robben Island. He was 46 years old.

Years passed and outside prison, the fight for freedom went on. Countries around the world began to put pressure on the South African government and to stage protests. In 1988, the South African government started to change some of the apartheid laws. They began talking to Nelson more seriously about stopping the fighting and working together towards peace. After 27 years, Nelson walked out of prison on 11 February 1990. He was 71 years old.

1991, Nelson became leader of the
 ANC. He led the party in talks with
President de Klerk to end apartheid, and make South Africa a true democracy. On 27 April 1994, millions of black South Africans were allowed to vote for the first time. The ANC won the election and Nelson Mandela became the first President of South Africa to be elected by ALL its people.

Nelson died on 5 December 2013, aged 95. Every year on July 18 people celebrate Mandela Day. They remember the 67 years he spent fighting for freedom and give 67 minutes of their time to help others.

From artists to aviators and scientists to revolutionaries, Little Guides to Great Lives is a brand-new series of handy, accessible guides, each beautifully depicted by a different illustrator. Nelson Mandela: Little Guides To Great Livesby Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Hannah Warren is published by Laurence King. RRP £8.99 Age 7+ Available from

Heather Black

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