Nelson Mandela was born in the village of Mvezo, a descendant of the king of the Thembu people. Growing up as a shepherd boy, he said he inherited his father’s “stubborn sense of fairness”, drifting into political activism in the 1940s after earning his university degree.
He was arrested in 1956 for “high treason” against the state for his anti-apartheid activities with the African National Congress, but was later released. He went on to help found the armed wing of the political group, inspired in guerilla warfare by the writings of Che Guevara.
In 1961, the armed wing carried out 57 bombings. He was re-arrested the following year and was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment.
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people,” he said while on trial in 1963. “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.”
He was released on February 11, 1990, after lengthy negotiations with South Africa‘s leaders. He went on to tour the world, drumming up further international support for sanctions against the race-based apartheid regime. After a series of talks with then-president FW de Klerk, the pair agreed on an interim constitution – which led to a multiracial general election. Mandela won with 62 percent of the vote.
As president, Mandela led a campaign of national reconciliation and massively increased welfare spending. After his retirement in 1999, Mandela continued his social activism and philanthropy, becoming one of the world’s most respected and loved leaders.
He died at home on December 5, 2013, at the age of 95.
Mandela received a full state funeral. South African authorities ordered flags across the nation to be flown at half-mast.