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  • The activist was born Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, but affectionately known as Madiba.

    The activist was born Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, but affectionately known as Madiba. | Photo: Reuters FILE

Published 18 July 2018

According to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the name Madiba was derived from an 18th century Thembu chief who ruled in the Transkei.

South Africa's first black head of state Nelson Mandela is a man of many names. Today as the world celebrates the 100 anniversary of the revolutionary's birth, teleSUR looks at the various titles attributed to the iconic figure over the course of his life.

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The social warrior, anti-apartheid fighter, revered leader, peacemaker and global philanthropist was born Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, but affectionately known as Madiba and respectfully titled Tata. 

NELSON according to widely recounted sources was the name attributed to Mandela on his first day at school by a teacher. The assignment of a “new” moniker adhered to longstanding African norms which sought to assuage colonial masters by giving children English names. Mandela, in an autobiography, wrote that the name Nelson paid tribute to British sea captain Lord Nelson.

ROLIHLAHLA is the ex-president's birth name, given by his father. The name, which is Xhosa, means “pulling the branch of a tree”, but “troublemaker” colloquially.

MANDELA is the family's name.

MADIBA comes from the clan which the anti-apartheid fighter belonged to. The significance of the name Madiba supersedes any other title Mandela had bestowed upon him, since the name directly referenced ancestry – the revolutionary's descendants. According to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the name Madiba – which was the name of the Mandela's firstborn, who died in a vehicular accident while he was incarcerated – derived from an 18th century Thembu chief who ruled in the Transkei.

TATA is an Xhosa word which means “father”. In South Africa, and to some extent globally, Mandela was viewed as the “Father of South Africa.” This perception came from activism as well as social and physical sacrifices for black people in the country and across the world.

KHULU is a name Mandela was often referred to as, according to nelsonmandela.org. The site says the Khulu means “great, paramount, grand” and is also an abbreviation of Xhosa word for grandfather, “Tat'omkhulu.”

DALIBHUNGA is the given name of the philanthropist when he was initiated, at age 16, by his Xhosa tribe. Dalibhunga means “creator or founder of the council” or “convenor of the dialogue.”


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