Know More: Nelson Mandela


Born on July 18, 1918 in Transkei, South Africa, Nelson Mandela served as the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the first black South African to hold this position. Let's take a look at the life of this legend, who fought tirelessly against discrimination.

Early Life:
Nelson Mandela was born to the royal family of the Thembu tribe in South Africa. He was given the forename Rolihlahla, a term that meant 'troublemaker'. His great-grandfather was the ruler of the Thembu people. His father, however, was a local chief and councillor to the monarch. Nelson Mandela obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University College at Fort Hare and studied law at the University of Witwatersrand. At this university, he was the only native African and hence faced a lot of discrimination. However, he befriended a number of European, Jewish and Indian students. He soon became actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement in his 20s and joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944. The ANC was a multiracial nationalist movement to bring about political change in South Africa.

The Apartheid Movement:
It was in 1948 that the National Party came to power and began to implement its policy of Apartheid, a system of racial segregation. The National Party was the ruling party from 1948 to 1994. Under its Apartheid movement, the rights of a majority of the black inhabitants of South Africa were taken away. This racial segregation deprived the black people of citizenship. It also segregated education, medical care, beaches and other public services and provided black people with inferior services than those offered to the whites. 

The Anti-Apartheid Movement:
The ANC staged a campaign of resistance against the Apartheid laws. In 1952, Nelson Mandela rose to prominence and became one of the ANC's deputy presidents. By the late 1950s, Mandela and his colleagues faced increasing government discrimination, but they still continued their struggle. In 1956, Mandela went on trial for treason. The court case lasted for five years and ended with Mandela being found not guilty. In March 1960, around 60 black anti-Apartheid demonstrators were killed by the police at Sharpeville. At this time, the government declared a state of emergency and banned the ANC. In response to this, Mandela helped establish the ANC's military wing called 'Umkhonto we Sizwe' or 'The Spear of the Nation'. Mandela was then appointed its commander-in-chief. He travelled abroad to receive military training and to find support for the ANC.

Life Imprisonment:
In 1961, Mandela was arrested due to his activities and jailed for five years. In June 1964, he was sentenced again to life in prison due to his involvement in planning armed action against the government. Mandela was held captive in Robben Island prison, off the coast of Cape Town, and later in Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland. During his years in prison, Mandela's reputation grew and he was widely accepted as the most significant black leader in South Africa. He became a symbol of resistance as the anti-Apartheid movement gathered strength. While in prison, he even rejected offers made by his jailers for reduction of his sentence in exchange for accepting the Bantustan policy. The Bantustan policy sought to assign every black African to a 'homeland' according to their ethnic identity and send them there to live. 10 bantustans were established in South Africa and 10 in neighbouring South-West Africa. These homelands were self-governing but had less or no access to resources. Mandela remained in prison until February 1990, when ANC campaigning and international pressure led to his release. On February 2, 1990, South African President F W de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC and other anti-apartheid organisations. Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison on February 11, 1990. After his release, he returned to the leadership of the ANC and led the first multi-party negotiations that resulted in the country's first multiracial elections. He became the South African president from 1994 to 1999 and won praise for his leadership during this time, even from his former white opponents. After his retirement, he went on to become an advocate for social and human rights organisations.

Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with F W de Klerk, the then president of South Africa, in 1993. In 1997, he stepped down as ANC leader and in 1999, his presidency of South Africa came to an end. In 1998, he was married for the third time to Graa Machel, the widow of the president of Mozambique. In 2004, he announced his retirement from public life, although his charitable work continued. On August 29, 2007, a permanent statue of him was unveiled Parliament Square, London, UK. Within South Africa, he widely considered to be 'the father of the nation' and 'the founding father of democracy'. Nelson Mandela has also received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1990, he received the Bharat Ratna from India.