Rolilhalha Mandela was born to a royal family on July 18, 1918 in the village of Mvezo in the Umtala district of South Africa. He was given the English name of Nelson the first day he attended school, the first person in his family to do so. He later studied at Fort Hare University but was expelled for protesting the university's policies. While working as a law clerk he finished college through an extension program of the University of South Africa and began studying for a law degree.
Mandela became involved in the African National Congress (ANC, or the left-wing South African political party) after the 1948 elections saw victories by the National Party which supported apartheid, or strict racial segregation. Although believing in Gandhi's prinicples of non-violence, he was arrested in 1956 along with 150 other ANC members for treason. After a five-year trial all were acquitted. It was during this time that he met and married Winnie Madekizela, who was the first black social worker in Johannesburg and also active in ANC politics. The couple divorced in 1996.
Due to increasingly repressive governmental policy, in 1961 the ANC created an armed wing led by Mandela, arranging sabotage attacks and military training of party members. The ANC was banned as a result under the Unlawful Organisations Act and Mandela was smuggled out of the country. Upon his return he was arrested and in October 1962 was sentenced to five years in prison. The following summer other ANC leaders were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia and charged with crimes against the state. Mandela was included in these charges and was one of five defendants to be sentenced to life in prison. As a political prisoner he was allowed one letter and one visitor every six months and was forced to work in a lime quarry.
In 1986 Mandela was offered freedom on the condition he would renounce violence against the state and he refused, saying "What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts." Due to increasing world-wide pressure and the decline of the National Party he was released from prison by South African President Willem de Klerk on February 11, 1990. The ban of the ANC was also lifted at this time. Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
|Mandela and U.S. President Bill Clinton|
South Africa's first elections allowing both blacks and whites to vote were held in 1995, and Mandela became president with the ANC receiving 62% of the vote. In his inaugural speech he said, "We have at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender, and other discrimination. Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another... Let freedom reign. God Bless Africa!"
Mandela resigned as head of the ANC in 1997 and resigned the presidency in 1999. He has continued to support children's causes and the fight against AIDS. In 2009 the United Nations declared July 18 as Mandela Day, observing his 67 years of public service with participants giving 67 minutes in community service.