Nelson Mandela was many things: a passionate activist, a gentle leader, and a compassionate man. While much of his life was lived in the public eye, especially after his release from prison, countless South Africans never got to know enough about the man behind the heartfelt smile.

To honor the Father of the Nation this Mandela Month, we have compiled a list of 10 things that you may, or may not, have known about Madiba.

1. Mandela was born Rolihlahla Mandela. One of his primary school teachers, Miss Mdingane, gave him the name ‘Nelson’ when he was 9 years old as it was customary for all school children to have Christian names.

2. Upon returning to his village of Mqekezweni from University College of Fort Hare, Chief Dalindyebo tried to arrange a marriage for Mandela and his blood brother, Justice. The two did not agree with the arrangements and ran away to Johannesburg.

A young Mandela

3. Mandela voted for the first time in his life during the 1994 elections. He was already 76 years old at the time.

4. There is a woodpecker named after Mandela. In 2012, scientists named a prehistoric woodpecker after Madiba. The bird is now known as the Australopicus nelsonmandelai.

Mandela captivated the world

5. Mandela was on a US terror watch list until 2008 – that’s 18 years after he was released from prison. As the ANC was deemed a terrorist organisation by the apartheid regime, Mandela was only able to visit the USA with special permission from the Secretary of State.

6. On the day of his release from prison, Mandela was to give a speech at the Cape Town City Hall. When he took out his prepared speech, he realised that he left his glasses behind in prison. He had to borrow his then-wife, Winnie’s glasses.

7. Mandela was a master of disguise. When he was forced to go underground to evade the police, he disguised himself as a chef, a garden boy, and a chauffeur.

Mandela’s release from prison

8. One of Mandela’s favorite dishes was ulusu (tripe). Other favorites included Umleqwa (farm chicken) and amasi (sour milk). One of his former chefs, Xoliswa Ndoyiya went on to publish a recipe book that contained Madiba’s favorite recipes.

9. Mandela made a cameo appearance in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.  At the end of the film, he can be seen as a teacher reciting Malcolm’s illustrious speech to a class of school children in Soweto.

Mandela loved boxing

10. Besides politics, Mandela was also very passionate about boxing. In his biography, he stated: “I did not like the violence of boxing. I was more interested in the science of it – how you move your body to protect yourself, how you use a plan to attack and retreat, and how you pace yourself through a fight.”

There is no denying that Nelson Mandela was much more than just a politician. He was also a generous, multi-faceted man who left behind a wonderful legacy.

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