Tata Madiba: A remarkable life

One of the most famous and admired men of our generation, 95-year old Nelson Mandela, or Tata Madiba, as he was affectionately known to South Africans, was finally laid to rest after a long battle with pneumonia last month. His funeral and memorial service was an elaborate and drawn out affair, attracting dignitaries from far and wide, including several current and former British prime ministers, four US presidents, celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Bono and Charlize Theron, and even royalty – Prince Charles came to pay his respects, amongst many other members of the world’s aristocracy.

The funeral itself took place over the course of the week-end of 12-14 December 2013 – the same period as a rare and important Jupiter-Saturn trine. Such transits only come along once every 20 years or so and usually presage a time when the seemingly contradictory qualities of these two planets blend more seamlessly.

Marjorie Orr sums it up best:

The Jupiter-Saturn mix is an interface of opposites. Idealism versus materialism; high-flying boundless ambition versus melancholy awareness of the inevitable limitations of life; the urge for immortality versus the Grim Reaper at the core of the human condition…[1]

A more appropriate set of aspects we could not hope to find presiding over the commemoration of such a distinguished life. For not only did the event turn out to be a suitably solemn and reverential (Saturn) affair, but it also managed to be a jubilant celebration (Jupiter) of the life of this historical giant – not an easy balance to strike on such an important but also incredibly poignant occasion.

Resonances of these two planets seemed to echo everywhere. As well as the obvious association that Jupiter and Saturn have with dignitaries, pomp and ceremony, the involvement of the signs of Cancer (family) and Scorpio (death) – the two zodiac points where Jupiter and Saturn were located – seemed equally fitting.

Mandela himself is known to South Africans by the nickname of ‘Tata’ which means ‘father’ in Xhosa[2]. Saturn, in its rulership of Capricorn, is very much the symbol of the wise sage or elder – fitting for someone considered to be a patriarch and ‘father of the nation’; while Cancer, the sign under which Mandela was born, and it’s ruler, the Moon, is emblematic both of home, birth and family, and of crowds or the populace. These two signs very much epitomise the age old polar opposite qualities of youth and old age, the cradle and the grave – both qualities very much present at his funeral.

After dying at his home in Johannesburg, Mandela’s body was brought back to rest at his ancestral home, the place where the Thembu, his Xhosa clan, reside. Here, according to traditional Xhosa beliefs, his body would re-join with his spirit and that of other deceased members of his family, and he would make the transition from human being to that of a family ancestor – an ancient belief dating back thousands of years and evident in both indigenous and prehistoric cultures alike. The notion of his body ‘returning home’ – a phrase often used by black South Africans in relation to death – to re-join his deceased and living family members and undergo a spiritual transformation to that of guardian family spirit, seems to resonate in the astrology quite uncannily: at the time, Saturn was in Scorpio – the supreme sign of death and transformation, and Jupiter was in Cancer – sign of ancestral beliefs, and family-based ceremonies and rituals.

In Mandela’s nativity, we also find some interesting synastry with these planets and signs. For example, Nelson happens to have been born with Jupiter in Cancer, which is no mean feat, considering that Jupiter takes approximately 12 years to move through the entire zodiac! Although his exact birth time is not known, because it was not common practice during the Apartheid years for black people to be given birth certificates, we do know that he was born on the 18th of July 1918 in Mvezo in rural Transkei[3] – one of the African homelands in the Eastern Cape set up by the Apartheid regime. Some astrologers assign a Sagittarius Ascendant to his chart, which would make this quite a significant planet for him in terms of life-force and health. However, we do not have an exact birth time for him, so this is mere speculation. Whatever his time of birth, though, we cannot argue with planetary placements such as Jupiter, which moves much slower than the inner planets and luminaries, and so doesn’t change position much during the course of a day. In Mandela’s case, what first associates this Jupiter with death is the fact that his father died when he was 12 years old[4], which to any astrologer, would scream ‘Jupiter Return.’ Ordinarily this might seem odd for a benefic planet like Jupiter, exalted as it is in Cancer, except that in Mandela’s case, he happens to have a Jupiter-Pluto conjunction in Cancer, which could indicate big, life-changing events such as the death of a family member, may occur when one of these two planets is transited.

His Moon, the natural ruler of Cancer, and therefore of his natal Sun, Jupiter and Pluto, is also in Pluto-ruled Scorpio which means that there is a mutual reception between the Moon and Pluto in his chart, reinforcing what is an important signature in his chart relating to emotional intensity, family drama, a steely inner resourcefulness, as well as a deep devotion to his country and people.

This deep devotion to reforming his country can be heard being clearly expressed through some of his speeches, including the famous lines uttered by him during his famous ‘Speech from the Dock’ made on 20 April 1964 before his imprisonment on Robben Island:

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”[5]

Interestingly, these points also have strong synastry with the chart for the Transkei, the independent homeland created for the Xhosa tribe from which Mandela was descended, which has Cancer rising and the Sun, north node, Mars and Uranus in Scorpio (midnight, 26 Oct 1976, Umtata[6]). Scorpio, the sign par excellence of reinvention, unwavering loyalty and transformation, also happens to be the sign ruling the planets Jupiter, Pluto and the Moon, as well as the Midheaven in the chart for the newly created Constitution for the Republic of South Africa; created in 1994 (midnight, 27 Apr 1994, Pretoria[7]) after the elections and reforms initiated and brokered by Mandela himself, and over which he presided as the country’s very first black president. In his inauguration chart (11h20, Pretoria, 10 May 1994[8]) Scorpio is the ruler of the IC, which is conjunct Jupiter, resonating with his Scorpio Moon and perhaps reflecting his loyalty and dedication to his country (Scorpio IC) through his role as leader; together with his faith (Jupiter) in helping to transform South Africa (Scorpio on IC) into a better place through his guidance and good example.

However, given the involvement of Scorpio, it is not surprising that the whole event did not pass without controversy – often where Pluto or Scorpio is involved, certain uncomfortable truths or emotional undercurrents are forced out in the open. In this case, the public used the opportunity to voice their disillusionment with current President, Jacob Zuma, whose time in office has been mired by a succession of scandals, including rape charges and corruption allegations. Some used the global media coverage to voice their concern about institutional corruption – an issue we have seen raised a lot in recent years, particularly since the ingress of Pluto in Capricorn – and Zuma was even booed by onlookers at the funeral itself.[9]

Scorpio is also associated with covert operations, conspiracy and secrecy, so it is therefore not entirely surprising that the actual date of Nelson Mandela’s death became something of a contentious topic, with rumours swirling of a cover-up to hide the fact that he died much earlier than was stated, and was kept on life support while preparations were made for his funeral and his family tried to sort out their legal wrangles.

These suspicions appear to have been fuelled by reports in certain US newspapers such as the Las Vegas Guardian Express who allege that their sources, including a recorded telephone conversation, indicate that he actually died as early as June. This appeared to be backed up by court documents,  filed on 26 June, which the French media outlet, AFP, reported to have described Mr Mandela at that stage as being ‘in a permanent vegetative state’ and ‘assisted in breathing by a life support machine,’ which doctors advised the family, ‘should be switched off.’[10]  Coupled with the timing and changed itinerary of President’s Obama’s visit to South Africa, together with the bungled condolences published by the office of George Bush Senior, mistakenly released in September[11]  and then sent out again two days before Mandela’s death was officially announced in December[12], these allegations have made the official date of his death somewhat questionable.

Let’s see if astrology can help to clarify the situation and shed any light on what might be the truth of the matter.

Jupiter-Pluto and Decease Date Controversy

The best place to begin is the offical announcement made by President Zuma, which stated that he died at 21h00 South African Standard Time at his home in Johannesburg on 5 December 2013[13].

In this chart, we have a very strong Jupiter-Pluto signature – Jupiter in Cancer is rising in the first house, and Pluto, planet of death and resurrection, is positioned in the 6th house of health and wellbeing, close to the cusp of the Descendant, almost like the spectre of the Grim Reaper. Neptune, sometimes associated with death because of its association with spirituality and the breaking down of boundaries/merging with the collective, is in the 8th house – the house associated with death in traditional astrology. Saturn, the planet of old age, is in Scorpio, sign of death, and located in the 4th house, which does fit quite well with the notion, well-known in horary astrology circles, of the fourth house being the ‘end of the matter’ – the house of Saturn (and therefore of fathers and old age) where people ‘fall into the grave.’[14] It therefore has all the hallmarks of a legitimate death announcement.

The next thing to do is to look for any sort of confirmation of this in Mandela’s transits (which I have set for Noon because of insufficient clarity about birth time, even though my gut feeling is that he was born at around 18h00 local time). Here we have transiting Saturn conjunct his natal Moon in Scorpio- certainly not a cheery aspect; an opposition between the transiting Capricorn Moon & Venus and his natal Sun in Cancer (So a Full Moon of sorts, which could indicate an ending of sorts?). No Neptune contacts of relevance. Uranus, considered by some to be a malefic planet associated with accidents and sudden death, is conjunct his natal Chiron in Aries. But Mandela’s death was more of a slow and drawn out affair, so this doesn’t count. And although some of these transits might be considered somewhat ominous, what is conspicuously absent are any negative transits to his natal Jupiter-Pluto conjunction, or any contacts between transiting Jupiter or Pluto and any of his natal planets. So not really definitive then…

So what might the alternatives be?

According to the Las Vegas Guardian Express, sources placed within the South African national broadcaster, SABC, suggested that he had actually died on the evening of 25 June.[15] Later, they would present evidence, ostensibly obtained by a separate additional correspondent, sent to South Africa, who, according to them, ‘returned with an audio recording of two top government officials confirming the fact that Mandela was totally brain dead and was declared so on June 11’[16] by the head doctor working at the Pretoria hospital where he was being cared for – so even earlier than was originally reported. The recording is allegedly that of a telephone call between a security operative and his contact within the South African Defence Force, but of course, we have no way of authenticating it[17]. Judge for yourself – a link can be found in the Reference notes.

These allegations were strenuously denied by the South African authorities. The newspaper alleges that soon after publication, their website was subject to a cyber-attack, traced back to South Africa. Conspiracy theory or rumours dressed up as fact?

So what to make of this allegation. Let’s look at the charts for 11 and 25 June to see if they can offer any clues…

25 June: This chart has a stellium of planets, including the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter; all bunched close together in Gemini and Cancer. Other than that, there are no negative aspects that might lead us to believe something ominous is going to happen.

However, if we project these as transits onto Mandela’s chart, then a few interesting contacts begin to emerge. First of all, the transiting Sun in Cancer, together with Jupiter in the last degrees of Gemini, appear to be heading for a conjunction with Madiba’s natal Jupiter-Pluto conjunction. Both are within 1 degree of their respective natal planetary counterparts. This is because we are coming up to Mandela’s birthday, or solar return, when the Sun returns to the same position it was at when Mandela was born. Also as it transpires, Mandela was due for his Jupiter Return in 2013 – on 1 July to be exact. The Jupiter return is more interesting because it only occurs once every 12 years and, as I explained already, it does seem to be associated with certain key tragedies in Mandela’s life. However, at this stage, Jupiter has not even ingressed into Cancer, so the aspects are not quite exact. So, although this date has some hallmarks of possibility, for me it’s a case of ‘nice try but no cigar’.

The 11 June chart, however, is a bit of a different story…

11 June:  Firstly, the event chart for this date has a rather ominous opposition between Venus in Cancer and Pluto in Capricorn – the two signs representing birth and death that we demonstrated were so prevalent around Madiba’s funeral. Transposed onto Mandela’s chart, this Venus is orbiting close to his natal Jupiter-Pluto conjunction, while the Sun and Jupiter in Gemini are both contacting his natal Venus. This serves to activate his nodal axis (natal Venus is conjunct his south node), thereby introducing an element of fate/the collective into the picture – the impact of his death on the public?

What’s more, transiting Saturn in Scorpio (intimations of mortality/death from old age) is square to Mandela’s Neptune (transition to the spiritual realms/the happy escape). That same Saturn also happens to form part of a grand trine involving transiting Neptune and Mandela’s Pluto-Jupiter conjunction, which sits at the apex. If you were looking for the sign of a peaceful death, then to me this would be a very good one. What’s more, the aspects are very tight – Saturn and Neptune are EXACTLY trine while Nelson’s Pluto is only 10 seconds off being peregrine. Given how slowly these planets all move, this configuration does seem rather significant. Looking at this chart overall then, I could easily be convinced that this might well be the true date of his demise.

As an astrologer, though, I always feel that the best way to ascertain confirmation as to whether a particular transit is likely to be significant for a client, is to look at their natal chart to see if there are any contacts. If we examine Mandela’s chart, what seems to recur again and again in relation to health-related matters is that Jupiter-Pluto conjunction, as well as, to a lesser degree, contacts to his natal Venus and Saturn.

First Jupiter-Pluto. As I mentioned before, Jupiter seems to have been fairly significant for Mandela – his father died around his first Jupiter Return at age 12 (1930) and his only surviving son died in January 2005 of an AIDs-related illness when transiting Jupiter had recently gone over his natal Mars; and transiting Pluto was opposing his natal Venus. In addition, transits to these two planets do seem to coincide with major, possibly life-threatening illnesses. For example, on 12 August 1988, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB)[18]. This coincided with a transit of Venus to his Jupiter-Pluto conjunction. This often lethal respiratory condition would later come back to haunt him in his final months – it weakened his lungs which made it difficult for him to fight off the complications from pneumonia that he later died of. Here, it may be noteworthy that this natal configuration (Jupiter-Pluto) also happens to square Mandela’s radix Chiron in Aries, perhaps representing a physical wound that would render him vulnerable healthwise further down the line?

Another example was his brush with prostate cancer in 2001, which he announced in the late July of that year. Around this time, on the 18th of July 2001, Mandela experienced another Jupiter Return. At the time of the announcement, just a few days later on 24 July, transiting Jupiter can be found hovering at around 2 degrees of Cancer, so still very much within orb of that natal Jupiter-Pluto conjunction. As it happened, Mandela was due for his Jupiter Return in 2013 – on 1 July 2013, to be exact, which does seem pretty spooky and could corroborate the idea of an earlier demise.

But why Jupiter?

Normally Jupiter Returns are fortuitous and expansive times, but, in the case of Nelson Mandela, his natal Jupiter happens to be conjunct Pluto, the ultimate symbol of death and destruction. So when transiting Jupiter makes any conjunctions with Mandela’s natal Jupiter, it is also contacting Pluto, a planet very much tied up with themes of death, survival and life-altering or life-threatening circumstances. The fact that these Jupiter-Pluto contacts seem to have coincided with events concerning illness (1988, 2001) or death (1930) in Mandela’s life could also be used to rectify his chart – illness and health is a 6th house matter, which does seem to suggest that he may have had Aquarius rising and not Sagittarius, as some have suggested…For one thing, it may not be a coincidence that his father named him Rolihlahla. In his auto-biography, Mandela writes:

In Xhosa, Rolihlahla literally means ‘pulling the branch of a tree,’ but its colloquial meaning more accurately would be ‘troublemaker’. I do not believe that names are destiny or that my father somehow divined my future, but in later years, friends and relatives would ascribe to my birth name the many storms I have both caused and weathered.[19]

But let’s not forget Saturn, which also seems to have been a key planet in many of the big events in the great leader’s life.

For example, in the case of the two illnesses mentioned above, in 1988 a transiting Saturn-Uranus conjunction in Sagittarius was going over Mandela’s north node, thereby activating the nodal axis, which would involve his natal Venus-south node conjunction in Gemini. The New Moon in Leo (exact at 14h30 local time that day) had also just gone over Madiba’s natal Saturn-Mercury conjunction, perhaps indicating news (News Moon) of an affliction (Saturn) with the lungs (Mercury). If we look at the 2001 chart, we notice that transiting Saturn is making an opposition to Pluto and Mars in Sagittarius, with the latter planet orbiting quite close to Mandela’s north node.

However, generally speaking, Saturn tends to be a signifier, less of health-related matters and more about personal limitations and tragedy in Mandela’s life – for example, in late 1968 when Mandela received the news in jail that his mother had died suddenly of a heart attack, transiting Saturn (loss/separation) was making a square to his Sun in Cancer – the sign par excellence of someone who is close to his mother. He also lost his only surviving son in 2005 when Saturn was conjunct his Sun. On 11 June 1964, Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment just as transiting Jupiter and Neptune were forming a T-square with his natal Saturn (and Mars, to his natal Uranus), perhaps symbolising that his imprisonment (Saturn) was a sacrifice (Neptune) on his part towards achieving the greater good. Transiting Saturn in Pisces was also contacting Mandela’s Jupiter-Pluto conjunction. Again, if Capricorn was on his 12th house cusp, then this would make complete sense because then Mandela’s natal Saturn would be the ruler of that house – the house of imprisonment. Of course we can’t ignore the Mars-Uranus square here either as signifying a blow to his personal freedom either. Mandela was said to have a stern and rather austere side to his character when it came to how he treated others, which would also fit with someone who had a Saturn-Mercury conjunction in the 7th house.

So, in terms of the three so-called ‘death’ dates, which one seems the most resonant? Clearly, of the June charts, the 11th is especially ‘radical’, given the Saturn-Neptune-Pluto trine, despite the fact that the latter date is closer to Mandela’s Jupiter Return. And yet, one cannot ignore the very clear symbolism of the December chart…However for me, the fact that the Jupiter-Saturn trine is conjunct to Madiba’s Scorpio Moon is perhaps most significant – if there was a cover-up, it all panned out in the end because this was an excellent time in which to publicly (and privately) mourn, as well as celebrate, the passing of a great man. The Moon is often symbolic of crowds, as well as people. If my rectification is correct, then Madiba’s Moon falls in his 11th house, which would resonate with this particular occasion very well as the place of groups, large gatherings and national pride. So, in the end, perhaps it doesn’t really matter exactly when he died – just that his funeral was a fitting tribute  – and what better transit to have astrologically for this than a Jupiter-Saturn trine! (Though of course there was also the major grand trine involving Neptune in July, but let’s not go there, shall we!)

Of course, all this being said, there are no hard and fast rules or archetypal transits that one can say will unfailingly foreshadow a death – much depends on individual context and the symbolism of the birth chart itself. To attempt to predict the death of a client is not only very bad form and highly unethical, but is also hubris.

In the case of Mandela, though, what we have seen though, is how powerful the process of rectification can be. Going back and using past transits to trace the affects of certain key planets can offer strong clues as to time of birth. Looking at the final rectified natal chart, which I have added here, I can’t help but see so many fitting symbols – the Libra Midheaven (pursuit of fairness, his legal career), the strong Uranian values he inherited from his father (Uranus in Aquarius in 2nd), the personal charm and magnetism of the Leo Descendant and his dedication to a life of service to his country, symbolised by the Sun in the 6th, made possible through personal sacrifice and his ability to publicly exercise forgiveness towards those who persecuted him (Neptune on DS).

As the sun ingresses into Aquarius, the sign I believe to be that of his Ascendant, it seems a fitting time to pay my last respects to a man I never knew personally but whose actions and words had a giant impact, not only on my own life, but also on that of thousands of people around the world. Good night, Tata Madiba – as they say in Xhosa, ‘Hamba kakuhle’.


[1] Marjorie Orr, 2002, The Astrological History of the World, p. 51

[2] Nelson Mandela Foundation, http://www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/names

[3] BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-20713377

[4] Nelson Mandela Foundation, http://www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/biography

[5] Nelson Mandela Foundation, http://www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/biography

[6] Nicholas Campion, 2004, Book of World Horoscopes, pp.297-300

[7] Nicholas Campion, 2004, Book of World Horoscopes, pp.297-300

[8] Nicholas Campion, 2004, Book of World Horoscopes, pp.297-300

[9] BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25347069

[10] ‘Mandela doctors advised family to turn off life support’, AFP, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gvM1BBxhXlqqfm40TYnqLM5E730w?docId=CNG.bdaecc6e13e31942ce0802a5f2d89e7a.ad1

[11] The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/nelson-mandela/10278993/George-Bush-Sr-mistakenly-announces-Nelson-Mandelas-death.html

[12] New York Daily News, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/george-h-w-bush-re-releases-mandela-statement-article-1.1539916

[13] BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-25249520

[14] See for example, Houlding, The Houses: Temples of the Sky, 2006, pp.69-71

[15] Las Vegas Guardian Express, http://guardianlv.com/2013/10/mandela-reporting-his-death-and-the-search-for-the-truth/

[16] Las Vegas Guardian Express, http://guardianlv.com/2013/12/nelson-mandela-family-finally-gives-up-charade-and-admits-mandela-dead/

[17] See: http://youtu.be/ihoe1joM_io

[18] Nelson Mandela Foundation, http://www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/biography

[19] Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, p. 14


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