Born on 18 July 1918, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was the son of one of South Africa’s leading dignitaries, Chief Henry Mandela of the Tembu Tribe. He was born in the small village of Mvezo, in the district of Qunu, near Umtata, Transkei (now known as Eastern Cape).
Mandela became involved in politics when he was a law student at Fort Hare University, after meeting Oliver Tambo, who became his life-long friend. Mandela became involved in political opposition to the white minority regime, joining the African National Congress (ANC) in 1942. Inspired by the work of the ANC, in 1944 Mandela helped start up the ANC Youth League.
A victory in 1948 by the Afrikaner-dominated National Party led to the apartheid system of racial segregation becoming law. Mandela became involved in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1955 Congress of the People, an anti-apartheid movement. In 1961, Mandela became the commander of the ANC’s armed wing, and in August 1962 he was arrested and jailed for five years. By June 1964, he was sentenced again for his forceful demonstrations, but this time to life imprisonment.
During his long imprisonment, Mandela educated himself in many ways, and began a campaign for a peaceful end to segregation. Mandela remained in prison until February 1990, until years of international public and political pressure finally led to his release.
Alongside South Africa’s President de Klerk, Mandela helped to dismantle the institutions of apartheid, an act for which they shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Mandela then returned to the leadership of a restyled peaceful ANC and, between 1990 and 1994, he led the party in the multi-party negotiations that resulted in the country’s first multi-racial elections, becoming the first black president of South Africa, until he decided to retire in 1999.
In 2009 the United Nations declared Mandela’s birthday, 18th July, as Nelson Mandela International Day. It was first celebrated in 2010.
Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95, at his home in Johannesburg, on 5 December 2013, one of the most respected and well known figures of his time.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.