History

Nelson Mandela revisits his prison cell on Robben Island in 1994, where he had spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

Nelson Mandela led the struggle to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a multi-racial democracy. Imprisoned for 27 years, in 1994 he went on to become his country's first black president.


Photo: Nelson Mandela revisits his prison cell on Robben Island in 1994, where he had spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. (Getty Images)

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More information about: Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa on 18 July 1918 and was given the name of Nelson by one of his teachers. His father Henry was a respected advisor to the Thembu royal family.

ANC involvement

Mandela was educated at the University of Fort Hare and later at the University of Witwatersrand, qualifying in law in 1942. He became increasingly involved with the African National Congress (ANC), a multi-racial nationalist movement trying to bring about political change in South Africa.

In 1948, the National Party came to power and began to implement a policy of 'apartheid', or forced segregation on the basis of race. The ANC staged a campaign of passive resistance against apartheid laws.

In 1952, Mandela became one of the ANC's deputy presidents. By the late 1950s, faced with increasing government discrimination, Mandela, his friend Oliver Tambo and others began to move the ANC in a more radical direction. In 1956, Mandela went on trial for treason. The court case lasted five years, and ended with Mandela being acquitted

Sharpeville

In March 1960, 69 black anti-apartheid demonstrators were killed by police at Sharpeville. The government declared a state of emergency and banned the ANC. In response, the organisation abandoned its policy of non-violence and Mandela helped establish the ANC's military wing 'Umkhonto we Sizwe' or 'The Spear of the Nation'. He was appointed its commander-in-chief and travelled abroad to receive military training and to find support for the ANC.

Life imprisonment

On his return he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison. In 1963, Mandela and other ANC leaders were tried for plotting to overthrow the government by violence. The following year Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was held in Robben Island prison, off the coast of Cape Town, and later in Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland. During his years in prison he became an international symbol of resistance to apartheid.

In 1990, the South African government responded to internal and international pressure and released Mandela, at the same time lifting the ban against the ANC. In 1991 Mandela became the ANC's leader.

A respected global statesman

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with FW de Klerk, then president of South Africa, in 1993. The following year South Africa held its first multi-racial election and Mandela was elected its first black president.

In 1998, he was married for the third time to Graça Machel, the widow of the president of Mozambique. Mandela's second wife, Winnie, whom he married in 1958 and divorced in 1996, remains a controversial anti-apartheid activist.

In 1997 he stepped down as ANC leader and in 1999 his presidency of South Africa came to an end.

In 2004, Mandela announced his retirement from public life, although his charitable work continued. On 29 August 2007, a permanent statue to him was unveiled in Parliament Square, London.

He died on 5 December 2013, aged 95.

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