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The global peace maker, first black president of South Africa, and 1993 Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela has made a lasting impression on the world. He was born July 18, 1918 in Mveso, Transkei, South Africa as Rolihlahla Mandela. He was the first in his family to attend school, and it was his teacher who gave him the name Nelson.
His father’s death at age 9 dramatically changed his life when he was adopted by Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo. He began studying English, Xhosa, history and geography. His interest in African history was peaked and he began learning about the relative peace Africa had experienced prior to the arrival of white colonialists.
The speech given by Chief Meligqili at Mandela’s ceremony to transition from boyhood to manhood inspired him to help his fellow black South Africans achieve independence and freedom from apartheid slavery. In 1942, Mandela joined the African National Congress and became actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement. For years Mandela worked through directing peaceful, nonviolent acts of defiance against the South African government and its racist policies. This included the 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1955 Congress of the People. He also founded the law firm Mandela and Tambo to offer free and low cost legal counsel to unrepresented black South Africans.
In 1956, Mandela was arrested along with 150 others and charged with treason. He was eventually acquitted. By 1961, Mandela began to feel that armed struggle was the only way to produce any real change. He co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe as an armed branch of the African National Congress. He was arrested in 1962 for orchestrating a three-day national worker’s strike, and in 1963 Mandela and 10 other ANC leaders were sentenced to life in prison for political offenses.
Mandela spent the next 27 years as a political prisoner. In 1985, Mandela was offered release by President P.W. Botha in exchange for renouncing armed struggle. Mandela rejected this offer. Botha was eventually replaced by Frederik Willem de Klerk, and on February 11, 1990 Mandela’s release was finally secured. De Klerk also unbanned the ANC, suspended executions and removed restrictions on political groups.
Mandela became president of the ANC after his release, and on April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first democratic elections. At the age of 77, Mandela was inaugurated as the country’s first black president.
Mandela worked to help his country heal from the deep wounds left behind by apartheid and also worked to keep the country’s economy from collapsing. By 1999, Mandela retired from active politics but continued to raise money for schools and clinics in rural South Africa. He also published several books.
After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Mandela retired from public life in 2004 at the age of 85 and returned to his native village of Qunu. Mandela died December 5, 2013 at the age of 95. He has left a legacy that will continue to inspire civil rights activists all over the world for generations.
Take a step back in time and check out Mandela’s first interview back in 1961 for ITN. The video was recorded just before his arrest when he was 43 years old. In the interview Mandela lays out his strategy for Black South Africans to reclaim their fundamental rights.