1- He lived up to his name: Mandela’s birth name was Rolihlahla. In his Xhosa tribe, the name means pulling the branch of a tree or troublemaker. (The name « Nelson » was given to him by his teacher on his first day of elementary school. It was the 1920s, and African children were given English names so colonial masters could pronounce them easily).
2. He was a master of disguise: When Mandela was eluding authorities during his fight against apartheid, he disguised himself in various ways, including as a chauffeur. The press nicknamed him « the Black Pimpernel » because of his police evasion tactics. « I became a creature of the night. I would keep to my hideout during the day, and would emerge to do my work when it became dark, » he says in his biography, « Long Walk to Freedom. »
3. A bloody sport intrigued him: Besides politics, Mandela’s other passion was boxing. « 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, » he says in his biography.
4- There’s a woodpecker named after him: From Cape Town to California, streets named after Mandela abound. But he’s also been the subject of some rather unusual tributes. Scientists named a prehistoric woodpecker after him: Australopicus nelsonmandelai. In 1973, the physics institute at Leeds University named a nuclear particle the ‘Mandela particle.’
5- He quit his day job: He studied law at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and opened the nation’s first black law firm in the city in 1952.
6- In prison, he was highly skilled at secretly passing notes. During his incarceration on infamous Robben Island, Mandela and the other prisoners would communicate by leaving notes in discarded matchboxes, under piles of dirty dishes, and taped in toilet tanks. Using these methods, Mandela and the other prisoners organized a hunger strike and succeeded in their effort to improve their living conditions.
7 . He had a cameo in a Spike Lee film: He had a big part in Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic « Malcolm X. » At the very end of the movie, he plays a teacher reciting Malcolm X’s famous speech to a room full of Soweto school kids. But the pacifist Mandela wouldn’t say « by any means necessary. » So Lee cut back to footage of Malcolm X to close out the film.
8- He probably won more awards than anyone in history. In addition to the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, Mandela has received more than 250 awards, including honorary degrees from more than 50 universities worldwide. In 2001, he became the first living person to be made an honorary Canadian citizen, and he was the last person to receive the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union.
.9- There’s a global holiday in his honor. In 2009, the United Nations declared that Nelson Mandela International Day will be celebrated every year on July 18 (his birthday). The purpose of the day is to honor Mandela’s legacy and promote community service.
10- He was on the U.S. terror watch list: Mandela wasn’t removed from the U.S. terror watch list until 2008 — at age 89. He and other members of the African National Congress were placed on itbecause of their militant fight against apartheid.