Born in 1919 in South Africa, Mandela studied law and had a career as a lawyer before becoming involved in anti-colonial and African nationalist politics and joining the African National Congress (ANC) in 1943.
When Apartheid began from 1949.This was the continuation of the policy of racial segregation installed in South Africa since the founding of the Dutch East India Company in 1952. The ANC and Mandela, now rising through the ranks, were committed to its overthrow.
Mandela was influenced by Marxism and secretly joined the South African Communist Party (SACP). He also co-founded the “uMkhonto we Sizwe”, the armed wing of the ANC, which led a campaign of sabotage against the Government following the Sharpeville massacre.
In 1964 Mandela was condemned to life imprisonment following charges of “sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the Government”. It was during his trial that Mandela gave his famous “I Am Prepared to Die” speech. Later that year, Mandela was transferred to Robben Island where he remained for 18 years. Initially, conditions were very bad and it was not until 1967 that things started to improve.
During the 1980s, Mandela's international standing continued to grow although both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher considered him and the ANC as communists and terrorists.
Against a backdrop of continuing violence and economic sanctions, several attempts to reach a political agreement between the Government and Mandela failed. It took a new president, FW de Klerk, to bring about real change and in 1990, all formerly banned political parties were legalised and Mandela was unconditionally released.
Mandela then went on an international tour meeting many key Western and African leaders seeking support for sanctions against the Apartheid Government.
1994 marks a key date in South African history when for the first time, a general election was held in which all citizens were given the right to vote. As a result, Mandela became South Africa’s first black President. The primary goal of his presidency was national reconciliation, persuading white South Africans that they had a secure place in the new “Rainbow Nation”.
South Africa still had many problems following its change from Apartheid to a full democracy but many had predicted that this change would result in a blood bath. Nelson Mandela, amongst others, is given much credit for having prevented this.