Legal Law

Success and triumph: what the life of Nelson Mandela reveals

By the time you have finished this article, you will be able to learn how you can tell if the coming years are good or bad for you, and how long this season will last, so that you can act accordingly: if there is a storm on the horizon, you will take shelter in time, if sunny days are coming, you will take advantage before the opportunity passes, so that you can have great success in life.

Before that though, we first have to see what lessons are drawn from South Africa’s national hero, Nelson Mandela, how his life’s alternations, from good to bad and vice versa, radically influenced his tumultuous life. Mandela was born in 1918 in a village near Umtata in the black South African territory of the Transkei. His father was a political leader and the young Mandela commanded respect in the community. After his father’s death in 1927, he was exposed to even greater privilege. His mother took him to the Regent of Tembu, who had been a friend of his father. It was here where Mandela lived his most constructive years -from 1927 to 1941- and acquired a kind of royalty, which marked his entire life. There, he saw himself as a member of the royal family and experienced a much grander lifestyle than before.

At the age of 16, in 1934, the Regent sent Mandela to Clarkebury, the largest educational center in Tembuland, to enroll in the great Methodist Institution there, where distinguished British missionaries taught. There, Mandela’s eyes were opened to the value of scientific knowledge and he entered a much wider world. In 1936, he transferred to a larger Methodist institution in Healdtown, and in 1939 he went on to the University of Fort Hare, where his teachers and other students saw him as a prince ready to become the leader of his people.

Mandela flourished at that university, and during his second year (1940-1941), he was elected to the student council. But this meant the end of his good season. Most of the students had not voted in the council elections, because they wanted improvements in their diet. Thus, Mandela resigned from the council. The rector of the university warned him that he would be expelled, but he insisted and was, in fact, expelled.

He then went to the Regent’s house, but got angry and demanded that Mandela go back to university. He refused, so the Regent brought matters to a head: he tried to arrange a marriage for Mandela, but he was not interested and decided to run away secretly to find his fortune in Johannesburg. But Johannesburg was not what Mandela expected. A growing African migration to the city in the last five years had produced cluttered shacks near the city and led Afrikaners to seek a kind of segregation, “apartheid”.

Mandela first sought work in the gold mines. But as soon as it was known that he had left his house, he was fired from him. He then tried to get a job at a black-owned real estate agency and law firm. “It was the most difficult moment of my life,” he later wrote. For the next five years he wore a dilapidated suit that the lawyer had given him. And he lived in a slum with no electricity or indoor plumbing. He was very poor and had to walk miles a day to get to the office.

He always wanted to be a lawyer. Thus, in early 1943 he enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand to obtain a law degree. There he spent six years. At the same time, he became a member of the African National Congress (ANC), the political union of blacks. And in 1952, he and four other ANC members wrote a letter to the government and called for the repeal of some laws they considered unfair. But the letter did not have any positive results. Instead, he soon experienced his first imprisonment: he stayed in jail for two nights. And in July 1952 he was sentenced to nine months in prison, while at the end of 1952 he was prohibited “for six months from attending any meeting or speaking to more than one person at a time, and was prohibited from leaving Johannesburg without permission.”

In 1953, he received another ban restricting him to Johannesburg for two years, and after that ban expired in 1955, he received a new one for another five years. And at the end of 1956, Mandela and 155 other leaders were accused of high treason. Preliminary hearings began in January 1957, and the trial began in February 1959. In August 1960, Mandela tried out a speech that revealed a thoughtful politician: it was the most powerful speech he had ever delivered. In March 1961, the court announced victory: a not guilty verdict. Mandela and the other defendants celebrated the verdict with a spontaneous outburst of joy.

Shortly after his release, Mandela went into hiding, as the senior leader of the ANC. Seeking help to free black South Africans, he traveled in 1961 and 1962 through South Africa, visiting Britain and other countries. When he returned home in August 1962, he did what he already had planned: he allowed himself to be arrested – for leaving the country without a passport. In the trial that followed, he played an almost theatrical role; the court was his theater. “A leader of a new type emerged in South Africa,” wrote a local newspaper: “the leader who would not give up or leave the country.” During the trial he did not dispute the facts and was sentenced to five years in prison.

But although he waited to be released in five years, in 1963 dozens of documents were found that incriminated him and a new trial was opened. In 1964, the court sentenced him and the others to life imprisonment. All the prisoners believed that they would serve ten years at most, from 1964 to 1974. But 1974 arrived and no light of liberation was coming. And in 1975, most of the prisoners began to challenge Mandela’s leadership. By 1980, Mandela, now 62, looked frail, spoke at times haltingly and often seemed lost in thought of himself.

And in 1982 the situation worsened: Mandela was transferred to a new prison – a colossal building for thousands of criminals. The government wanted to separate him from the other political prisoners, so he was transferred to that castle. There were six prisoners in each cell; the cell was a dream and the comforts were worse than before. In 1985, Mandela underwent prostate surgery. After the operation, he was taken to an isolated section of the prison, in a damp and uncomfortable cell on the ground floor. Mandela felt lonely and had given up all hope of being released.

The following year, Mandela was invited by the Minister of Justice to help negotiate the future of South Africa’s black population. This turned out to be an ordeal for Mandela. He was alone in his encounter with the government; they had isolated him from his colleagues. Between 1987 and 1990 there were twelve more torturous meetings between the government and Mandela, with Mandela still in jail. At the same time, Mandela’s health was not good: he coughed, sweated and vomited, and he had trouble standing up. In 1988, doctors said that he had tuberculosis.

In 1989 and early 1990, Mandela was faced with a diplomacy of intrigue: the government insisted on abandoning majority rule, which meant that the country’s black population could not effectively govern. Mandela, of course, could not accept that provision and would therefore remain in jail. In November 1989, Mandela was the only black leader still in prison.

But in February 1990 everything changed. The government announced that political prisoners – including Mandela – would be released. Mandela was released on February 11, 1990. As he walked out the prison gate, he received a hero’s welcome from the thousands of supporters who crowded around the prison.

Mandela soon began negotiations with the government to peacefully transfer power to blacks, and in September 1991 a conference was held for that purpose. And in early 1994, he began the campaign for the general elections. Projecting the charm and skill of a magnificent politician, he won the election with ease. On May 10, 1994, he was sworn in as President of South Africa. Mandela had triumphed.


Mandela’s life reveals that perseverance can sometimes lead not only to success but also to triumph. Mandela had suffered the greatest misfortunes during his life. He was imprisoned at the age of 44, and remained in prison for 28 years, until he was 72. But then he not only managed to get out free, but he soon triumphed; he was elected president of his country.

Furthermore, it follows from Mandela’s life that in 1941 the good times he lived up to that year (he saw himself as a member of the royal family at that time, as you will recall), ended suddenly and a bad time began for him, when he was repeatedly sentenced to prison terms and finally accused of high treason. But in 1957, a change of seasons occurred in his life: he ended his bad season and began a good one: although in prison, he was recognized as the leader of South Africa. However, from 1974 a new bad season began for Mandela: he lost all hope of being released. That poor season lasted until 1990, when he was triumphantly released and soon sworn in as president of South Africa.

However, the season-like alternations are also derived from the biographies of many other famous people I have studied. Among them are biographies of Napoleon, Beethoven, Verdi, Churchill, Picasso, Aristotle Onassis, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret Thatcher, Columbus, and many others, more than 20 biographies in all.

For example:

— Beethoven’s good and bad seasons alternated in 1776, 1792, 1809 and 1825

— Napoleon alternated in 1776, 1792 and 1809

— Churchill alternated in 1875, 1892, 1908, 1924 and 1941

— Verdi alternated in 1825, 1842, 1859, 1875 and 1892

— Picasso alternates between 1892, 1908, 1925, 1941 and 1957

— Jackie Kennedy Onassis alternated in 1941, 1957, 1974 and 1990

— Elizabeth Taylor alternated in 1941, 1958, 1975 and 1990

— Margaret Thatcher alternated in 1941, 1957, 1975 and 1990

— Aristotle Onassis alternated in 1924, 1941, 1957 and 1974

— Queen Elizabeth’s I of England alternated in 1545, 1562, 1578 and 1595

— The alternation of Columbus in 1479 and 1496.

Comparing these biographies, I came to a surprising discovery: the seasons of all the people mentioned alternated according to a certain pattern. Furthermore, after extensive research, I discovered that the seasons of our own lives alternate according to the same determined pattern. That means, therefore, that we can foresee how the good and bad seasons of our lives will alternate in the future, with astonishing precision.

So, we can act accordingly. If there is a storm on the horizon, we can take shelter in time. If sunny days are coming, we can take advantage of them before the opportunity passes. Therefore, we can be very successful in life by making crucial decisions regarding our career, marriage, family, relationships, and all other matters of life.

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