Nelson Mandela

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Nelson Rolihlahla[1] Mandela (18th July 1918 - 5th December 2013), also known by the name of his Xhosa clan, Madiba,[2] or as Tata ('Father' in Xhosa), was President of South Africa, leader of the African National Congress (ANC) party, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Mandela's revolutionary fight against racial discrimination inspired his people to bring about an end to the apartheid regime that saw black people separated from white and treated as second-class citizens. Mandela spent 27 years as a political prisoner, 18 of them in the notorious Robben Island jail. After serving as South Africa's first black President, he became a philanthropist and campaigner.

Mandela was the first of his family to go to school, which was where the English name 'Nelson' was bestowed upon him. He went to Johannesburg to avoid an arranged marriage and trained as a lawyer. Having joined the ANC, he then co-founded South Africa's first black law firm. In 1956, he became a defendant in a four-and-a-half year treason trial, along with 155 others, in which he was ultimately acquitted.[3]

The ANC was banned by the apartheid government following the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, in which the police killed 69 protestors. Mandela became the leader of the party's newly-formed military wing in response, but in 1962 was put on trial for illegally leaving the country and, in 1963, charged with sabotage. He received a life sentence in 1964 and was sent to Robben Island, where he was forced to endure hard labour in a lime quarry.

Over the decades of his sentence, Mandela's name and struggle became more and more spoken of, even though the apartheid regime had gone as far as banning possession of his image or writings.[4] Slowly, the international community applied more and more pressure, eventually leading to President F. W. de Klerk lifting the ban on the ANC. On 11th February 1990, Mandela was released, and the following year was elected President of the ANC. Mandela then became involved in the talks that would establish a new democracy. In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On 11th May 1994, Mandela became South Africa's first black president, serving until 1999. He devoted much of his remaining years to campaigning on HIV/AIDS issues and promoting his country abroad.


  1. Xhosa: literally, 'pulling the branch of the tree'; colloquially, 'troublemaker'. See Nelson Mandela Foundation: 'Names'.
  2. This clan title is a formal name, used as a polite form of address (NMF: 'Names').
  3. BBC News: 'Nelson Mandela: Timeline'. 6th December 2013.
  4. ABC News: 'Nelson Mandela dead: icon of anti-apartheid movement dies at 95'. 5th December 2013.