Monday, 09 December 2013 by Matthew Jones
Nelson Mandela was born on 18 July 1918, a member of the Thembu clan. He was the first member of his immediate family to go to school. Struggling to pronounce his first name, a teacher christened him ‘Nelson’.
He went on to complete a law degree by correspondence at the University of South Africa, in 1942 and joined the African National Congress (ANC).
In 1948, the National Party came to power, and began to implement its programme of apartheid. Mandela was elected national secretary of ANC Youth League.
In 1952, Mandela qualified as attorney and started a law practice in Johannesburg.
1960, the ANC was banned. The following year, Mandela formed the armed wing of the ANC, which included sabotage (but not violence against people) among the tactics that it considered legitimate. He went into hiding at that time then later left South Africa. On his return, he was arrested and charged with leaving the country illegally and received a five year jail sentence. He was then charged with sabotage and treason and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island, with hard labour.
In 1985, President PW Botha offered to release Mandela, subject to his renouncing the armed struggle and promising to do nothing that would put him in conflict with South African law. Mandela rejected the offer.
In 1988, Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Tribute Concert at Wembley was watched by 600 million people in 67 countries, increasing pressure on the South African government.
FW de Klerk replaced Botha as South African President in 1989. The ban on the ANC was lifted the following year – and Mandela was released from prison.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with President de Klerk, in 1993 and was elected South Africa’s first black president in 1994, bringing full democracy to the country after white minority rule.
During his time in office, Mandela worked to ensure a culture of forgiveness and tolerance.
Realising the power of sport as a means of bringing people together, he campaigned to have South Africa host the Rugby World Cup in 1995.
When the home side, the Springboks, beat New Zealand in the final, he wore Captain Francois Pienaar’s shirt (a white Afrikaner) to present the trophy to him – an image seen globally as a major step in the reconciliation of white and black South Africans.
In 1999, Mandela retired as President and then retired from public life in 2004.
Globally, his impartiality and patience were perceived as strengths and helped reassure white South Africans that he was a leader of integrity, who would not pursue a campaign of revenge against those who had supported apartheid.
He died peacefully at home on 5 December 2013, aged 95.
You are invited to pay your own tribute in this online Book of Condolence.