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Nelson Mandela is one of the world’s most revered statesmen, who led the struggle to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a multi-racial democracy.

Despite many years in jail, he emerged to become the country’s first black president and to play a leading role in the drive for peace in other spheres of conflict. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

His charisma, self-depreciating sense of humour and lack of bitterness over his harsh treatment, as well as his amazing life story, partly explain his extraordinary global appeal.

Nelson Mandela’s Roots

He was born in 1918 into the Madiba tribal clan – part of the Thembu people – in a small village in the eastern Cape of South Africa. In South Africa, he is often called by his clan name – “Madiba”.

Born Rolihlahla Dalibhunga, he was given his English name, Nelson, by a teacher at his school.

His father, a counsellor to the Thembu royal family, died when Nelson Mandela was nine, and he was placed in the care of the acting regent of the Thembu people, chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo. 

Nelson Mandela Post Politics

Since stepping down as president in 1999, Mr Mandela has become South Africa’s highest-profile ambassador, campaigning against HIV/Aids and securing his country’s right to host the 2010 football World Cup.

Mr Mandela – diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001 – was also involved in peace negotiations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and other African countries.

He has also encouraged peace efforts in other areas of the world.

In 2004, at the age of 85, Mr Mandela retired from public life to spend more time with his family and friends and engage in “quiet reflection”.

Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom (Excerpts taken from Nelson Mandela Museum in Umtata)

  • 26 June 1955: The ANC resolved to call for a National Convention representing all people, irrespective of race or colour, to draw up a Freedom Charter for a future democratic South Africa (Note: Ironically, this document was virtually a blueprint for the process of change that happened some 45 years later.)
  • 21 March 1960: Sharpeville incident during which 67 Blacks are killed in a clash with police during a demonstration against pass laws. Resistance movement leaders and supporters burn their passes. ANC leader Albert Luthuli declares 28.3.60 a National Day of Mourning and calls for a nationwide stay-away.
  • 8 April 1960: The Government declares a State of Emergency and ban the ANC, PAC and several other political organisations. Close to 20 000 people imprisoned, including Nelson Mandela.
  • 1960: Albert Luthuli receives Nobel Prize for Peace.
  • 1961: Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) established to wage acts of violence against the State. Nelson Mandela appointed head of Umkhonto and authorised by ANC to join with whomever he wanted or needed to create this organised action.
  • 5 August 1962: Mandela arrested near Howick. He was charged for inciting Africans to strike and leaving the country without valid travel documents. He was sentenced to 5 years hard labour.
  • 11 June 1964: Rivonia Trial – Nelson Mandela brought from jail for re-trial and him and Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Dennis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Matsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni sentenced to life imprisonment for high treason. Lionel Bernstein found not guilty, but is re-arrested outside Supreme Court in Johannesburg.
  • 1964: Bishop Desmond Tutu receives Nobel Prize for Peace.
  • 31 August 1982: Mandela, Sisulu, Mhlaba and Mlangeni moved to Pollsmoor Prison.
  • 1983: The United Democratic Front (UDF) formed to co-ordinate protest against Apartheid and the first elections for a segregated Tricameral Parliament (Whites, Coloureds, Indians) in 1984. Mandela elected a patron of the UDF.
  • The ANC president in exile in Sweden, Oliver Tambo, conceives the Free Nelson Mandela Campaign to draw attention to South Africa and to create sympathy for the struggle.
  • 31 January 1985: Mandela offered his freedom by P.W. Botha if he unconditionally would reject violence as a political instrument. Mandela rejected the offer through his daughter, Zindzi.
  • December 1985: Mandela moved to a new cell away from the others.
  • May 1988: Mandela decides to negotiate with the Government without consulting with other ANC leaders. The first formal meeting of a secret working group takes place.
  • 9 August 1988: Mandela moved to a cottage behind a concrete wall in the Victor Verster Prison, Paarl.
  • 11 February 1990: Nelson Mandela released from jail
  • May 1990: Acceptance of the Groote Schuur Minute in which the Government and the ANC agreed to follow a process of peaceful negotiation and the lifting of the State of Emergency.
  • August 1990: The Pretoria Minute accepted with agreement to the release of all political prisoners and the suspension of the Armed Struggle.
  • 1991: Meeting of CODESA 1 – “Convention for a Democratic South Africa”. (Note: The Government and 17 other parties signed a Declaration of Intent incorporating the guiding principles of a new democratic order in South Africa. Central to the document was a commitment by all the parties involved “to bring about an undivided South Africa with one nation sharing a common citizenship, patriotism and loyalty, pursuing amidst our diversity, equality and security for all, irrespective of race, colour, sex or creed; a country free from apartheid or any other form of discrimination or domination”).
  • 1992: CODESA 2 continued and suspended after Police were implicated in killing 39 people in a massacre of ANC supporters in Boipatong.
  • September 1992: Mandela and F.W. de Klerk sign Record of Understanding, agreeing to a democratically elected Interim Government of National Unity.
  • 3 June 1993: Parliament vote for a first real democratic election.
  • November 1993: The Interim Constitution approved and a Transitional Executive Council established to ensure a climate conducive to the elections.
  • 27 April 1994: First democratic election in South Africa won by the ANC.
  • 10 May 1994: Nelson Mandela sworn in as President of the Republic of South Africa, and Thabo Mbeki and F.W. de Klerk as Deputy National Presidents of the Government of National Unity.
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