Nelson Mandela was born on 18 th July 1918 and grew up in a beautiful rural village in South Africa called Qunu.
His father was a Thembu African chief. He did not have much money but was very well respected by people in his tribe. Nelson spent his days looking after the cattle and sheep, fishing and swimming in the streams.
At the time there was no free education in South Africa so most children in the village were unable to go to school and stayed at home doing chores for their family. However, as he was the son of a respected chief, Nelson was allowed to attend school.
Nelson worked hard and studied diligently so that eventually he became a lawyer.
During this time different racial groups had to live completely separated under a system called ‘apartheid’. People were classified as being ‘White’, ‘Coloured’, ‘Indian’ or ‘Black’. People of colour were not allowed to vote, were given worse housing, medical care and amenities than white people and had limited schooling and job opportunities.
Nelson Mandela thought that these laws were wrong so he became involved with a political party called the African National Congress or ANC. The ANC opposed apartheid and encouraged people to resist the unfair laws. They believed in equal rights for everyone.
Nelson Mandela and the ANC protested peacefully. However, in 1963 he was arrested for plotting to overthrow the government and sentenced to life imprisonment. One of the jails Nelson Mandela stayed in was called Robben Island.
While in prison Nelson Mandela gained the support of people all over the world who respected his beliefs about equal rights for everyone. There were many campaigns asking for Nelson Mandela to be released from prison and to end apartheid in South Africa. This song, ‘Free Nelson Mandela’, was released in 1984 to protest against Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment and reached No 9 in the UK charts. Click the picture to listen to the song.
Nelson Mandela was finally released from jail on February 11 th 1990 after spending 27 years in prison.
Soon after Nelson Mandela was released, President F.W de Klerk resigned and apartheid was officially ended. This meant that all South Africans were allowed to vote for the first time. Nelson Mandela became the first black President of South Africa on 10 th May 1994 and held office until 1999.
In 1993 Nelson Mandela received, together with De Klerk, The Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to ensure that all South Africans, whatever their colour, respected each other and lived together peacefully.
Nelson Mandela worked for peace and reconciliation in South Africa since his release from prison in 1990. Despite his oppression under apartheid and suffering in prison, he did not seek revenge. He said: "You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution."
Mandela died on 5 th December 2013 at the age of 95 in Johannesburg. Approximately 90 representatives of foreign states travelled to South Africa to attend his state funeral on 15 th December.