From humble beginnings, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela went on to become one of the world’s most respected statesmen. Born in the Eastern Cape in 1918, Mandela earned himself a law degree and later set up South Africa’s first black law firm.
With the introduction of apartheid he became increasingly politically active, and was among the first to advocate armed resistance. In 1961 he went underground to form the ANC’s armed wing, known as ’The Spear of the Nation’. A year later he was captured and sentenced to five years. Then in 1964 handed a life sentence with hard labour on the notorious Robben Island prison.
During his 27 years behind bars, and forbidden from attending the funerals of his mother and eldest son, Mandela became the world’s most celebrated political prisoner.
Finally, on February 11, 1990, he walked free.
Less than three months later he led the first face-to-face talks with South African President F.W. De Klerk.
In 1993 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to move South Africa away from apartheid towards a multi-racial democracy.
After 3 years of talks, some 23 million people cast their votes in the country’s first all-races election, bringing the ANC into power.
“I have fought very firmly against white domination, I have fought very firmly against black domination, I cherish the idea of a new South Africa where all South Africans are equal.” Mandela said.
On May 10th, 1994 Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black head of state before a global audience.
Reconciliation was the theme of his presidency- the hallmark was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that tried to heal the country’s wounds.
Mandela’s charisma also helped him win over many white South Africans, symbolically donning the all-white national rugby team’s jersey during the 1995 World Cup tournament.
His decision to voluntarily step down after a five-year term was seen as a shining example to other African leaders.
In 2004 he retired from public life but continued to make headlines when he publicly challenged the government’s controversial views on HIV/AIDS. He later announced his eldest son had died from the virus and urged South Africans to confront the country’s growing epidemic.
But his work didn’t end there- in 2007, Mandela formed The Elders group, made up of prominent global leaders who work to promote peace and greater respect for human rights.
Following recurring health problems, Madiba, a clan name, chose to spend his twilight years in his ancestral village of Qunu.
Today, Nelson Mandela, remains a larger than life political hero, one whose legacy lives on both in his native ’rainbow nation’ and beyond