Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela who died on 5th December 2013, aged 95, from a lung infection was a Black South African who rose to become President of South Africa. His story has been an inspiration for many people. He was born on 18th July 1918 into the Thembu royal family. He was a member of the Xhosa tribe. For some racial groups, particularly in Africa, tribal groupings are especially important. Unlike many blacks of his day Mandela was able to attend university where he studied law.
After graduating Mandela lived in Johannesburg and joined the African National Congress (ANC). In 1948 the South African National Party came to power. One of their strongly held beliefs was the practice of apartheid. This was a system of racial segregation enforced by law. The rights of the majority of the population were not acted on. Initially Mandela was committed to non-violent protest. However in 1961 he co-founded the militant organisation Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK)in association with the South African Communist Party. This group lead a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In 1962 Mandela was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mandela spent over 27 years in prison, firstly on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. After an international campaign which called for his release, and which was granted in 1990, Mandela began negotiations with President F W de Klerk to abolish apartheid and start multiracial elections in 1994. The elections that were held led to an ANC victory and Mandela became South Africa’s first black President. In this position he formed a government of National Unity in an attempt to ease racial tension. He set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights abuses. Mandela’s government brought in measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty, and expand healthcare services.
He refused to run for a second term as president and decided instead to concentrate on charitable work through the Nelson Mandela Foundation. He received more than 250 honours, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. He has been held in great respect within South Africa, where he was often referred to as Tata (‘father) and is often described as “the father of the nation”. As UK Prime Minister David Cameron said, “A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time”.