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Nelson Mandela: A nation's father

Former South African president's struggle and sacrifices made him one of the world's most revered statesmen.

Last updated: 06 Dec 2013 09:30
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Nelson Mandela spent a sizeable part of his life incarcerated in prison, yet retained a mass appeal that few world leaders could ever hope to match.

One of the world's most recognisable fighters against inequality and oppression, he spent 27 years in prison for his active opposition to South Africa's racist apartheid regime. He then rose to become the country's first democratically elected president - a position that he voluntarily retired from after just one term.

The seeming ease with which he made personal sacrifices, coupled with his determined struggle for racial equality, made Mandela one of the world's most revered statesmen.

Throughout the anti-apartheid struggle and during his years as a national leader, he maintained a commitment to socialist values and always defended those who were oppressed. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Having lived a tumultuous life, his end came rather quietly in his Johannesburg home aged 95, surrounded by his family, Jacob Zuma announced on Thursday night.

Age-related illnesses finally overwhelmed the man whose second nature was to overcome mounting odds. Mandela was 95.

Life of struggle

Mandela famously spent almost three decades in prison for attempting to overthrow the apartheid government in South Africa.

Released in 1990, he went on to play a pivotal role in heralding multiracial democracy in South Africa, becoming the country's first black president in 1994.

Follow our coverage of Mandela's death and legacy

He stepped down five years later, but did not immediately withdraw to the shadows.

He remained in the limelight as South Africa's highest-profile ambassador, campaigning against the spread of HIV/AIDS and helping his country to secure the right to host the 2010 football World Cup.

His reputation for unmatched integrity also saw him emerge as as a towering moral arbitrator, brokering peace negotiations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere.

But his advancing age gradually chipped away his physical abilities and, in 2004, at the age of 85, he retired from public life to spend more time with his family and friends.

His public appearances became rare - his appearance at the closing ceremony of the 2010 World Cup was one of the most recent, and most memorable.

Personal life

Mandela was born in 1918 in a small village in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

Born Rolihlahla Dalibhunga, a school teacher gave him his English name, Nelson. He, however, was often called by his clan name, Madiba.

He joined the African National Congress in 1943 to resist the apartheid system devised by the all-white National Party. He thereafter helped to found the ANC Youth League.

The ANC was outlawed in 1960 and Mandela went underground. He was eventually arrested and charged with seeking to overthrow the government. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1964.

He stepped out as a free man only in 1990, after the South African government finally succumbed to sustained global pressure - through a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions -  to release him and repeal apartheid.

He was elected the president four years later, as all races voted in democratic elections for the first time in the country's history.

He was married three times, first to Evelyn Mase, a partnership which ended in divorce in 1957.

He married Winnie Madikizeia in 1958, but divorced her in 1992 after she was convicted on charges of kidnapping and assault.

He then married Graca Machel, the widow of the former president of Mozambique, on his 80th birthday.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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