The life story of Nelson Mandela

Jonny Steinberg

“Opportunity for high office is a matter of fate.”
-Tseng Kuo Fan advising Li Hung Chang. (Li Hung Chang and China’s Early Modernisation Page 21).

Nowhere is this truer than the life story of Nelson Mandela. Born by the third wife of a minor royal from the Thembu Kingdom in Transkei, South Africa, his father died when he was just aged 11 or 12 years old.

The regent of the Thembu Kingdom agreed to take him as his ward. This fortuitous benevolent act is not explained by Jonny Steinberg in his excellent and newly published 2023 book Winnie and Nelson Portrait of a Marriage.

The regent gave Nelson (not his birth name but a name given by his missionary teacher on his first day in school) the best of schooling in the top missionary schools available.

The regent personally enrolled him in the University of Fort Hare to study for a BA. This University was the only university open to black students in southern Africa at that time.

Nelson was a model student and well-liked by his teachers. However, when he stood up for students protesting the poor quality of food served at the university, he was expelled.

Due to disagreement with the choice of the brides chosen for him and the regent’s son, both he and the son left the household for Johannesburg. Nelson had not obtained his degree.

In Johannesburg, fate again played a major hand. He met Walter Sisulu, an illiterate self-made successful estate agent with his own firm.

Walter became a fellow comrade in their fight for independence. But that is many years down the road.

Walter’s significant contribution was to enable Nelson to become a lawyer by asking a Jewish law firm to take Nelson in as a law clerk. (p 60).

When he met Winnie Madikizela at age 38 courted and married her, he was a highly successful lawyer as there were only 60 black lawyers in South Africa then.

Opportunity for high office is a matter of fate. Indeed.

Judicial Conference
Magellan Sutera Resort
Kota kinabalu, Sabah.
10 June 2023

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