Nelson Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa on July 18, 1918. He was the son of a local tribal leader of the Tembu tribe. As a youngster, Nelson took part in the activities and initiation ceremonies of his local tribe. Nelson Mandela gained a full education, studying at the University College of Fort Hare and also the University of Witwatersrand and qualified with a law degree in 1942. In 1943, he decided to join the ANC and actively take part in the struggle against apartheid.
As one of the few qualified lawyers, Nelson Mandela was in great demand. In 1956, Nelson Mandela, along with several other members of the ANC were arrested and charged with treason. After a lengthy and protracted court case, the defendants were finally acquitted in 1961. However, with the ANC now banned, Nelson Mandela suggested an active armed resistance to the apartheid regime. This led to the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe, which would act as a guerilla resistance movement.
In 1963, Mandela was again arrested and put on trial for treason. This time the State succeeded in convicting Mandela of plotting to overthrow the government. However, the case received considerable international attention and the apartheid regime of South Africa became under the glare of the international community. At the end of his trial, Nelson Mandela made a long speech, in which he was able to affirm his commitment to the ideals of democracy.
Time in Prison
Mandela was commuted to life imprisonment and from 1964 –1981 he was incarcerated at Robben Island Prison, off Cape Town. In prison with many other political prisoners, and there was a strong bond of friendship which helped Mandela to make more bearable the difficult prison conditions. Mandela also created friendships with some of the guards. Mandela would later say that he felt he was fighting the apartheid system and not individual white people.
During his time in prison, Mandela became increasingly well known throughout the world. Mandela became the best known black leader and was symbolic of the struggle against the apartheid regime. Many countries implemented sanctions on apartheid South Africa. Due to international pressure, from the mid-1980s, the apartheid regime increasingly began to negotiate with the ANC and Nelson Mandela in particular. On many occasions, Mandela was offered a conditional freedom. However, he always refused to put the political ideals of the ANC above his own freedom.
Freedom and new South Africa
Eventually, Nelson Mandela was released on February 11, 1990. The day was a huge event for South Africa and the world. Following his release, in April 1994, South Africa had its first full and fair elections. The ANC, with 65% of the vote, were elected and Nelson Mandela became the first President of the new South Africa. As President, he sought to heal the rifts of the past. Despite being mistreated, he was magnanimous in his dealing with his former oppressors. His forgiving and tolerant attitude gained the respect of the whole South African nation and considerably eased the transition to a full democracy.
In 1995, the Rugby World Cup was held in South Africa. Mandela surprised many by meeting the Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar, before the Rugby World Cup begin. After an epic final, in which South Africa beat New Zealand, Mandela wearing a Springbok jersey, presented the trophy to the winning South Africa team. Mandela successfully won the hearts of a million white rugby fans.
Nelson Mandela retired from the Presidency in 1999. In the following years Mandela’s health began to deteriorate. However, he did speak out on certain issues. Mandela was very critical of the US-led invasion of Iraq during 2003 and campaigned to highlight the issue of HIV / AIDS in South Africa.
Mandela was married three times, fathered six children, and had 17 grandchildren. His first wife was Evelyn Ntoko Mase. His second wife was Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Mandela married for a third time on his 80th birthday to Graça Machel. Nelson Mandela was often referred to as Madiba – his Xhosa clan name. Nelson Mandela died on 5 December 2013 after a long illness. He was 95.