Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is judged to be one of the greatest political leaders of modern times.
Among his many accomplishments are the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for his dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa and establishing democracy there and becoming the president of South Africa in 1994 following their first multiracial elections.
Nelson was born as the foster son of a Thembu chief in Umtata (now the province of Eastern Cape) and raised in a traditional tribal culture within the grips of apartheid, a powerful system of black oppression that existed in South Africa.
After years as a poor student and law clerk in Johannesburg, he assumed an important role in the African National Congress (ANC), a civil rights group. He also helped form the ANC Youth League in the 1950s. He was accused of treason in 1956 but was acquitted in 1961.
From 1960-1962 Mandela led the NAC’s paramilitary wing known as Umkhonto we Sizwe which translates to “Spear of the Nation.” He was arrested in August of 1962, sentenced to five years in prison and while incarcerated was again convicted of sabotage and treason and was sentenced to life imprisonment in June, 1964 at the famous Rivonia Trial. During his twenty-seven years in prison, Nelson Mandela became a symbol of resistance to the white-dominated country of South Africa throughout the world.
After complex negotiation, Mandela was finally released from prison by President F.W. deKlerk in February, 1990, after lifting the long ban on the ANC.
Mandela’s release from prison marked the beginning of the end of apartheid in South Africa when he once again became the head of the ANC. He began the process to form a new constitution in South Africa which would allow political power to the black majority. Finally, in 1991 the South African government repealed the laws that had upheld apartheid.
In May, 1994 Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president after the country’s first multiracial elections were held. His goal was to provide for economic and social growth for the black majority that had been oppressed for so long by the system of apartheid.
Nelson Mandela continues to inspire people everywhere. He is viewed as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality. He stands for the triumph of dignity and hope over despair and hatred and of love over persecution and hatred. At age seventy-eight, he still remains a major political figure in South Africa where he enjoys his twenty-one grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Mandela died on 5 December 2013 at the age of 95, at home and surrounded by his family.