Nelson Mandela, Kill Mandela, John Mountford

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela answered to many names, but the one that is least known is the one that he was the most proud of. But we’ll get to that later.


First, let me share with you some of the ancestral, tribal and family names that define who Mandela was:

BANTU: Means “people” or “humans”, and is a general name for the approximately 600 ethnic groups who speak Bantu languages that have inhabited Africa from the earliest times.

NGUNI: The Bantu people who, sometime between the 2nd and 5th centuries, began a wave of southward migrations from the Great Lakes region in Central Africa. They were so named because of the vast herds of Nguni cattle they brought with them.

XHOSA: Part of the Nguni people who reached present day South Africa in the sixth century. Other Nguni people were the SWAZI and the ZULU, who inhabited the northern part of South Africa. The XHOSA pushed on farther south to inhabit the Eastern Cape region.

THEMBU: A tribe that is a part of the Xhosa people, to which Mandela belonged.

MADIBA: A Thembu chief who ruled in the eighteenth century. Mandela’s family trace their descent back to this specific forefather – as such they are known as the Madiba clan.

GADLA MANDELA: Mandela’s father and Chief of Mvezo, who belonged to the Left Hand House of the Thembu royal household. The Right Hand House provided heirs to the king, while the Left Hand House provided counsellors to the king.

ROHIHLAHLA: The name given to Mandela by his father at birth. It means ‘pulling the branch of a tree’, or ‘troublemaker’.

NELSON: The English name given to Mandela by his teacher on his first day of school. He has no idea why she chose that name for him.


Which brings us to the name I referred to in the beginning, the one Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela was most proud of.

Nelson Mandela, Xhosa initiation, Kill Mandela, John MountfordAt the age of sixteen, Mandela was initiated into manhood through the customary ritual of circumcision. At the final ceremony he was given his circumcision name: DALIBHUNGA.

To Xhosa traditionalists, and to Mandela himself, this name was the most acceptable for a man. It means ‘Founder of the Bungha’. The Bungha was the traditional ruling body of the Xhosa in the Transkei at the time.

And so, despite his not being destined to rule in the Thembu royal household, in the name of Dalibhunga, Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela’s future as a ruler was prophesied. Greater things lay in store. The rest is history.