The son of a tribal chief, Nelson Mandela began his opposition to South Africa’s government policies, which relegated blacks to non-voting, second-class citizens in a segregated society, while attending college. He went on to become a lawyer and joined the outlawed political party, the African National Congress (ANC), in 1944.
For two decades Mandela led the fight against apartheid’s racist policies, until he was sentenced to life in prison for sabotage in 1964. Still he remained the figurehead and leader of the growing movement to overthrow Apartheid through non-violent protest. As the movement grew to include marches of hundreds of thousands, American artists and activists joined the cause to end Apartheid and release Mandela.
In 1990 then President F.W. de Klerk released Mandela and legalized the ANC. Mandela became President of the ANC. At a time when racial tensions had reached an explosive head, his national call for forgiveness of his enemies helped to bring calm to the country.
Mandela’s direct negotiations with de Klerk led to South Africa’s first multi-racial presidential election in 1994. Mandela easily won the election, quickly establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to expose the crimes of the Apartheid era, leave them behind, and allow the country to move forward into a new day.
Mandela retired from political life in 1999. Under retirement he ran the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, worked tirelessly against AIDS and other diseases ravaging the continent. Still the African “tribal elder”, he was frequently asked to take leading roles in peace negotiations in his neighbouring countries.
President Mandela left us on December 5, 2013.