Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa on July 18, 1918. His father was Chief Henry Mandela of the Tembu Tribe. Mandela himself was educated at University College of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand and qualified in law in 1942. He joined the African National Congress in 1944 and was engaged in resistance against the ruling National Party’s apartheid policies after 1948. He went on trial for treason in 1956-1961 and was acquitted in 1961. One of the world’s most revered statesmen, Nelson Mandela led the struggle to replace South Africa’s apartheid regime with a non-racial democracy. He was inspired from a young age by his own elders’ courage during the wars of resistance and resolved at that time to support the freedom struggle of his people. As a law student Mandela was active in student politics and he joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1943. By 1952 he was leading national anti-apartheid activities, and opened the country’s first black law firm with Oliver Tambo. Throughout the 1950s he was banned, arrested and imprisoned for his activities. In the early 1960s he worked in the underground resistance movement and also travelled abroad. In 1962, shortly after his return to South Africa, he was arrested, tried and sentenced to five years in prison. While in prison he was also charged with sabotage and the Rivonia trial, as it has come to be known, was where Mandela made one of his most famous statements. “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. 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.” In 1964 he was jailed for life and spent 27 years in prison. In 1985, from prison, he began talks with the apartheid government which evolved into a dialogue and eventually, his release. On his release in 1990, Mandela again moved to the leadership of his people’s liberation struggle. In 1991 he was elected leader of the ANC. In 1994 the country’s first non-racial elections were held – the first time that Mandela himself was able to vote in his own country. He was elected President and served a five year term. Since stepping down as President in 1999, Mandela has become South Africa’s highest-profile ambassador, campaigning in the fight against HIV/AIDS. He was also active in peace negotiations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. Fondly known in South Africa by his clan name ‘Madiba’, Mr. Mandela remains an inspiration to all those around the world fighting injustice and oppression.
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