Born Rolihlahla Mandela in 1918, Nelson Mandela has lived a life of leadership to his home country of South Africa. He has been an inspiration to Africa’s people and has been on the front lines of the fight for freedom and equality. After spending almost three decades of his life imprisoned, he still leads the fight against apartheid with resilience and conviction, and remains South Africa’s most famous and beloved hero.
Educated at University College of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand, Nelson Mandela earned his law degree in 1942. After graduating from his studies he joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944 and joined in their peaceful resistance against the National Party’s policies on apartheid. Around this time, he helped found the ANC Youth League, who’s purpose was to mobilize and inspire the youth of South Africa to become involved in the anti-apartheid activism; he also joined with a fellow lawyer opened and operated the law firm of Mandela and Tambo, which provided free or low-cost legal services to many blacks who lacked the resources for representation. Due to his engagement in these activities Nelson Mandela was brought to trial for treason in 1963 and, along with several other ANC leaders, was convicted in 1964-he served 27 years behind bars. During this time he never lost his love of his country and his deep hope for its future.
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As he was about to be released from prison, Nelson Mandela says, “My daughter Zinzi says that she grew up without a father, who, when he returned, became a father of the nation. This has placed a great responsibility of my shoulders. And wherever I travel, I immediately begin to miss the familiar – the mine dumps, the color and smell that is uniquely South African, and, above all, the people. I do not like to be away for any length of time. For me, there is no place like home.”
In 1993 Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work toward peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new, democratic South Africa. In 1994 he was elected the first black President of South Africa in the country’s first fully representative democratic election. As President, from 1994 to 1999, Nelson Mandela presided over the government’s transition from minority rule and apartheid to a fully realized democracy. He has won respect and admiration from all over the world for his advocacy of peace and reconciliation.
During his life Nelson Mandela has made the afflictions of South Africa his life’s work. He has spoken out against apartheid, racism and corruption, and has been an advocate for education, AIDS awareness, peace and freedom.
In November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly announced that Nelson Mandela’s birthday, July 18th, is to be known as ‘Mandela Day’ to honor his contribution to world peace and freedom.