Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison after being convicted of treason by the white minority government, only to forge a peaceful end to white rule by negotiating with his captors after his release in 1990. He led the African National Congress, a long a banned liberation movement, to a resounding electoral victory in 1994 - the first fully democratic election in the country’s history.
Mandela's death was announced close to midnight and a small crowd quickly gathered outside the house where he once lived in Soweto, on Vilekazi Street singing “Nelson Mandela, there is no one like you.”
Mr. Mandela served as president from 1994 to 1999 and was succeeded by his secretary, Thabo Mbeki. Mandela spent his early retirement years focusing on charitable causes for children and later speaking out about AIDS, which has killed millions of Africans, including his son Makgatho, who died in 2005. Mandela retreated from public life in 2004 at the age of 85, largely withdrawing to his homes in the upscale Johannesburg suburb of Houghton and his ancestral village in the Eastern Cape, Qunu.
Mandela was not only an icon of freedom but also an extraordinary example of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. In 1964, in an address to the sabotage trial he said "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination."
Born in 1918, Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela was raised in the village of Mvezo in the Transkei in the Eastern Cape. He was one of 13 children from a family with close links to the royal house of the Thembu people. He was only nine when his father died of tuberculosis, and was soon sent from his home village to live as a ward of the Thembu royal house, where he would be groomed for a leadership role. This led to him being sent to a Methodist school, where he was given the name Nelson. He was a diligent student and in 1939 went to Fort Hare University, then a burgeoning centre of African nationalism. It was at Fort Hare that Mandela met the future ANC leader, Oliver Tambo, with whom he would establish the first black law practice in South Africa. Both were expelled from the university in 1940 for political activism.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s during a period of growing tumult in South Africa the ANC launched an armed struggle with Mr Mandela at its head as African nationalists allied with the South African Communist Party challenging the apartheid state. He was arrested and charged with treason in 1956. After a trial lasting five years, Mr Mandela was acquitted. But by this point the ANC had been banned and Oliver Tambo had gone into exile. Nelson Mandela went underground and embarked on a secret trip to seek help from other African nations emerging from colonial rule. He also visited London to meet Tambo. But soon after his return he was arrested and sentenced to five years in jail. Further charges led to a life sentence that would see him spend 27 years behind bars. These years in prison ended his marriage to Winnie Mandela and strained many of the relationships with some of his children.
A short time-line of Nelson Mandela's life:
1918 Born in the Eastern Cape
1943 Joined African National Congress
1956 Charged with high treason, but charges dropped after a four-year trial
1962 Arrested, convicted of incitement and leaving country without a passport, sentenced to five years in prison
1964 Charged with sabotage, sentenced to life
1990 Freed from prison
1993 Wins Nobel Peace Prize
1994 Elected first black president
1999 Steps down as leader
2001 Diagnosed with prostate cancer
2004 Retires from public life
2005 Announces his son has died of an HIV/Aids-related illness
RIP Nelson Mandela. He was truly an inspiration to millions of people around the world.