Nelson Mandela's name is no doubt one that will echo throughout history. His lasting influence on politics and human rights means that his legacy will follow him for years to come. Between his work towards the end of apartheid and his dream of a non-racial South African government, Mandela contributed greatly toward lasting peace in South Africa, as well as the end of many oppressive and racist governmental policies.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, into the royal lineage of the Xhosa clan to Chief Henry Mandela and his wife, Nosekeni, of the Thembu people. He was born in the village of Mvezo, Umtata, in South Africa's Cape Province. His mother was a dedicated Christian and sent him to a Methodist school at the age of seven. His father eventually joined their family in the village of Qunu, where he passed away. Soon after, when Mandela was about nine, his mother brought him to Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo's home in Mqhekezweni, where the chief and his wife would raise Mandela as their child, along with their son and daughter.
Attending Clarkebury Methodist High School in Engcobo and later Healdtown, a college in Fort Beaufort, Mandela was made to interact with other students as equals. This opened his mind to the views of others and later influenced his politics. He began to nurture an interest in African culture despite his support of the English rule. He was suspended from Healdtown, however, due to a food boycott, and returned to Mqhekezweni in 1940.
Shortly after his return to home in 1940, Mandela fled to Johannesburg to avoid an arranged marriage. He was living with a cousin when he met Walter Sisulu, an African National Congress activist. Sisulu helped young Mandela find a job at a law firm and this job, as well as his new ties to the ANC, exposed him to communism for one of the first times. Mandela was studying at night at the University of South Africa and, upon graduating in 1943, decided to become a lawyer.
At the University of Witwatersrand, Mandela faced racism from some of his fellow students, moving him in a political direction. Mandela joined the ANC and eventually helped create the Youth League of the ANC, known as the ANCYL. He was married in 1944 to nurse Evelyn Mase. Unfortunately, due to his busy political life, Mandela failed his last year of law school three times and was denied a degree.
Mandela was actively moving the ANC in a more radical and active direction in the mid-1940s as he gained influence in the organization. He pushed for peaceful protests and demonstrations, at one point even addressing a crowd of 10,000 in 1952. These activist actions led to frequent arrests and suspicion from the authorities but also helped the ANC and Mandela gain popularity amongst black Africans. He also began to support communism during this time, influenced by historical figures such as Marx, Lenin, and Zedong.
In 1954, along with his close friend Oliver Tambo, Mandela created his own law firm in Johannesburg, the only African law firm in the country. Because of Mandela's royal heritage, he was afforded much respect from the black community. During this period, Mandela divorced Evelyn and would eventually marry Winnie Mandela.
Mandela was a longtime supporter of peaceful protests. However, after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, Mandela co-founded an organization known as MK, a militant group that utilized sabotage with minimum causalities as a way to pressure the government to change apartheid and segregation laws. Mandela later admitted that violence was an option at one point, even training in guerilla warfare in Algeria in the early 1960s. These radical activities forced him to remain hidden for a time, but in 1962 he was arrested in South Africa and sentenced to five years in prison.
After Mandela's imprisonment and sentence in 1962, he was again tried while in prison for treason, violent conspiracy, and sabotage. The prosecution was calling for the death penalty; however, he was sentenced to life in prison in 1964, as were some of his fellow activists. The majority of this sentence was spent in a facility on Robben Island, where Mandela rose from a Class D to Class A prisoner, eventually being freed by the South African government in 1990.
Upon his release from prison, Mandela led the ANC's negotiations with President de Klerk to end apartheid and transition to democracy. Mandela had gained a celebrity status while imprisoned, helping the ANC party's membership grow astronomically. In 1994, the ANC party won the majority of the South African election, and Nelson Mandela was elected as President of South Africa. He remained president until 1999, opting not to seek re-election.
After suffering from tuberculosis while imprisoned, Mandela's health again declined in the early 2010s. He was repeatedly hospitalized with respiratory and infections, eventually leading to his death on December 5, 2013, at the age of 95. He was survived by his children and third wife, Graca Machel, as well as his outstanding legacy.
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