Who is Nelson Mandela?

Despite many years in jail, he emerged to become the country’s first black president and to play a leading role in the drive for peace in other spheres of conflict. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Since stepping down as president in 1999, Mr Mandela has become South Africa’s highest-profile ambassador, campaigning against HIV/Aids and securing his country’s right to host the 2010 football World Cup.

Mandela ‘ diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001 ‘ has also been actively involved in peace negotiations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi and other African countries.

In prison, you come face to face with time. There is nothing more terrifying

Nelson Mandela

He has also encouraged peace efforts in other areas of the world.

Mandela, 85, explained his decision to withdraw from public life, by a desire to spend more time with his family and friends and engage in “quiet reflection”.

Raised by royalty

Mandela was born in 1918 into the Madiba tribal clan ‘ part of the Thembu people ‘ in a small village in the eastern Cape of South Africa.

Born Rolihlahla Dalibhunga, Mandela was given his English name, Nelson, by a teacher at his school.

His father, a counsellor to the Thembu royal family, died when Nelson Mandela was nine, and he was placed in the care of the acting regent of the Thembu people, chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo.

Joined the ANC

He joined the African National Congress in 1943, first as an activist, then as the founder and president of the ANC Youth League.

Eventually, after years in prison, he also served as its president.

He married his first wife, Evelyn Mase, in 1944. They were divorced in 1957 after having three children.

Mandela qualified as a lawyer and in 1952, opened a law practice in Johannesburg with his partner, Oliver Tambo.

Together, Mandela and Tambo campaigned against apartheid, the system devised by the all-white National Party which oppressed the black majority.

Charged with high treason

In 1956, Mandela was charged with high treason, along with 155 other activists, but the charges against him were dropped after a four-year trial.

Resistance to apartheid grew, mainly against the new Pass laws, which dictated where blacks were allowed to live and work.

In 1958, Mandela married Winnie Madikizela, who was later to take a very active role in the campaign to free her husband from prison.

Goes underground

The ANC was outlawed in 1960 and Mandela went underground.

Tension with the apartheid regime grew, and soared to new heights in 1960 when 69 black people were shot dead by police in the Sharpeville massacre.

It was the end of peaceful resistance and Mandela, already national vice-president of the ANC, launched a campaign of sabotage against the country’s economy.

He was eventually arrested and charged with sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government.

Conducting his own defence, Mandela used the stand to convey his beliefs about democracy, freedom and equality.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” he said. “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.”

Life sentence

In the winter of 1964 he was sentenced to life in prison.

In the space of 12 months between 1968 and 1969, Mandela’s mother died and his eldest son was killed in a car crash but he was not allowed to attend the funerals.

He remained in prison on Robben Island for 18 years before being transferred to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland in 1982.

As Mandela and other ANC leaders languished in prison or lived in exile, South Africa’s black township children helped sustain the resistance.

Hundreds were killed and thousands were injured before the schoolchildren’s uprising was crushed.

Release campaign

In 1980, Tambo, who was in exile, launched an international campaign to release Mandela.

Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts ‘ Nelson Mandela.

The world community tightened the sanctions first imposed on South Africa in 1967 against the apartheid regime.

The pressure produced results, and in 1990, President FW de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC, and Mandela was released from prison.

The ANC and the National Party soon began talks about forming a new multi-racial democracy for South Africa.

Clashes with Inkatha

But violent clashes broke out between supporters of the Inkatha Freedom Party, a Zulu group led by Chief Buthelezi, and ANC supporters.

Despite attempts to resolve the problems through talks, the violence escalated and the Inkatha targeted ANC strongholds, with support from the white police force.

Relations with De Klerk grew tense as the violence persisted, but the two leaders continued to meet sporadically, in an attempt to stop the bloodshed.

In 1992, Mandela divorced his wife, Winnie, after she was convicted on charges of kidnapping and accessory to assault

Nobel Prize for Peace

In December 1993, Mandela and De Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Five months later, for the first time in South Africa’s history, all races voted in democratic elections and Mandela was elected president. The ANC won 252 of the 400 seats in the national assembly.

Mandela’s greatest problem as president was the housing shortage for the poor, and slum townships continued to blight major cities.

He entrusted his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, with the day-to-day business of the government, while he concentrated on the ceremonial duties of a leader, building a new international image of South Africa.

In that context he succeeded in persuading the country’s multinational corporations to remain and invest in South Africa.

Steps down

Mandela gave up the presidency of the ANC in December 1997 in favour of Mbeki, his nominated successor.

He stepped down as president after the ANC’s landslide victory in the national elections in the summer of 1999, in favour of Mbeki.

Since his retirement he has continued travelling the world, meeting leaders, attending conferences and collecting awards.

Six years ago he married Graca Machel, the widow of the former president of Mozambique. ‘ Compiled by own staff.

July 2006
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