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Mandela in Numbers

Mandela in Numbers

By Will Humphries

Situated on Robben Island, just off the coast of Cape Town. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned here from 1964 to 1990, along with many other political prisoners. The prison was made a historical museum in 1996.
SourceJason Miele/Corbis


Because true greatness can be hard to quantify, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

By Will Humphries

Much has been said over the past week about the life of Nelson Mandela, but his struggles and achievements are often difficult to capture. Quantifying greatness is never easy, but here’s a look at Mandela by the numbers.


From his arrest on August 5 1963, to his release on February 11, 1989, Mandela spent 9,687 days in incarceration, or 232,488 hours. To put that in perspective, he could have watched the recently-premiered film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom back-to-back 100,354 times during his time in prison.


Mandela was President of South Africa from May 10, 1994 until March 29, 1999 – a total of 1,784 days. This means that he spent approximately 5.4 days in prison for every 1 day he spent as president.

Photo of cell through jail bars.

A cell inside the prison on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held during the Apartheid era

No. 46664

While on Robben Island, Mandela was known by his prison number 46664. This indicated that he was the 466th prisoner admitted in 1964. Not only is the number a palindrome (the same forwards as backwards) but is has a quirky mathematical property: 46664 is one more than the prime number 46663, while its exact half 23332 is one less than the prime 23333.


Despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 alongside Frederik Willem de Klerk “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa,” it was not until 2008 that Mandela was taken off the U.S. Terror Watch List.

56 square feet

Mandela’s cell on Robben Island, in which he resided from 1964 until 1982, measured 8 feet by 7 feet, for a grand total of 56 sq. ft. To put that into perspective, Mandela, who famously donned the Springbok Rugby Jersey at the 1995 World Cup Final, could completely cover his floor with as few as 88 regulation-sized rugby balls.

40 to 70

In 1973, while Mandela was still imprisoned, a group of scientists at Leeds University, UK, named a nuclear particle after him. The particle was described as being 40 to 70 times the mass of a proton and was used “to explain an anomaly in their measurements of multi-TeV cosmic rays near sea-level.”



Mandela received numerous humanitarian awards after his release from prison in 1989, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. However, the extent of his honors is astounding, receiving 138 honorary degrees and doctorates from 1989 until 2013 – that works out at just under 10 every year for 14 years.


Mandela’s victory in the first fully democratic elections in South Africa, held in April 1994, was heralded as a landslide. And the numbers back that up. The African National Party (ANC), of which Mandela was leader, received just under 63 percent of the vote. In real terms, this translates as 12,237,655 votes, with the second place National party receiving less than a quarter of that number, with only 3,983,690.


Mandela’s family was extremely large – his father was a polygamist with 4 wives, meaning that the young Mandela grew up with 12 siblings: 3 brothers and 9 sisters. Mandela’s family tree contains many branches of its own: he himself married 3 times, fathering 6 children of his own. He also lived long enough to see 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren born.


At the memorial service held for Mandela, 91 world leaders were present – the largest number ever to gather for a memorial service. This included three former U.S. Presidents (Clinton, Bush and Carter) and three former UK Prime Ministers (Blair, Brown and Major). 

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