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Who is Nelson Mandela?

Nelson Mandela (Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela) by name Madiba, was born on July 18, 1918 at Mvezo, South Africa. His negotiations in the early 1990s with South African Pres. F.W. de Klerk helped end the country’s apartheid system of racial segregation and ushered in a peaceful transition to majority rule.

Nelson Mandela in prison on Robben Island, off Cape Town. Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy

Nelson Mandela’s Years Behind Bars

A picture captured during a rare visit from his comrades at Victor Verster Prison. (Image: © National Archives of South Africa)

Nelson Mandela spent the first 18 of his 27 years in jail at the brutal Robben Island Prison, a former leper colony off the coast of Cape Town, where he was confined to a small cell without a bed or plumbing and compelled to do hard labour in a lime quarry. As a black political prisoner, he received scantier rations and fewer privileges than other inmates. He was only allowed to see his wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who he had married in 1958 and was the mother of his two young daughters, once every six months.

The Free Nelson Mandela

In this Feb. 11, 1990 file photos, Nelson Mandela and his wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, gesture as Mandela walks free from the Victor Verster Prison in Paarl, Cape Town, South Africa after serving 27 years in prison. Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020 marks the 30 year anniversary of the release of the former South African president.

On February 11, 1990, the South African government under President de Klerk released Mandela from prison. Shortly after his release, Mandela was chosen deputy president of the ANC; he became president of the party in July 1991.Throughout his imprisonment he had rejected at least three conditional offers of release.

“Comrades and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all,” Mandela said hours after his release, speaking to throngs of supporters at Cape Town’s City Hall.

In this Feb. 11, 1990 file photo, Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in Cape Town, is celebrated in Soweto, South Africa. Mandela’s release set off joyous celebrations and violent clashes as supporters welcomed Mandela back from 27 years in jail. (AP Photo)

Mandela immersed himself in official talks to end white minority rule and in 1991 was elected ANC President to replace his ailing friend, Oliver Tambo. In 1993 he and President FW de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The 1994 general election, held on 27 April, was South Africa’s first multi-racial election with full enfranchisement and Mandela voted for the first time in his life. The African National Congress won 63%of the votes in the election, and Mandela, as leader of the ANC, was inaugurated on 10 May 1994 as the country’s first black President, with the National Party’s F.W. de Klerk as his first deputy and Thabo Mbeki as the second in the Government of National Unity.

Nelson Mandela Presidency

State Arrival and dinner for President Nelson Mandela and President Bill Clinton in 1994

On 10 May 1994 he was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected President. His inauguration ceremony was attended by 45 heads of state and government. He married Graça Machel, the widow of former Mozambican president Samora Machel, his third wife on his 80th birthday in 1998.

Mandela was the first non-white head of state in South African history, as well as the first to take office following the dismantling of the apartheid system and the introduction of multiracial democracy. He was also the oldest head of state in South Africa’s history, taking office at the age of seventy-five.

When Mandela began his term on 10 May 1994, he presided over the transition from minority rule and apartheid, winning international respect for his advocacy of national and international reconciliation.

True to his promise, Mandela stepped down in 1999 after one term as President. He was succeeded by Mbeki, who was inaugurated to the presidency on 16 June. Mandela retired from active politics.

Nelson Mandela Retirement from Politics

Nelson Mandela celebrating his 94th birthday with members of his family

Several years afterward, he engaged in a number of philanthropic activities continued to work with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund he set up in 1995 and established the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation.

In 2002, Mandela inaugurated the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, and in 2003 the Mandela Rhodes Foundation was created at Rhodes House, University of Oxford, to provide postgraduate scholarships to African students. These projects were followed by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and the 46664 campaign against HIV/AIDS.

He was a founding member of the Elders, a group of international leaders established in 2007 for the promotion of conflict resolution and problem solving throughout the world. In 2008 Mandela was feted with several celebrations in South Africa, Great Britain, and other countries in honour of his 90th birthday.

Death of Nelson Mandela

On 5 December 2013, Nelson Mandela, died at the age of 95 after suffering from a prolonged respiratory infection. He died at around 20:50 local time (UTC+2) at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa, surrounded by his family.

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