Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela | Western Cape Government

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

(Western Cape Government)
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in the former Transkei on 25 July 1918. He was educated at University College of Fort Hare and the University of the Witwatersrand where he qualified in law in 1942. He joined the African National Congress in 1944.

Mandela involved himself wholeheartedly in leading a non-violent campaign of civil resistance, helping to organise strikes, protest marches, demonstrations and encouraging people to defy discriminatory laws.

In 1944, he helped found the ANC Youth League, whose Programme of Action was officially adopted by the ANC in 1949. In 1952, Mandela was elected volunteer-in-chief of the Defiance Campaign. In response to this, the government gave him a suspended sentence for his part in the campaign. It was during this period that he engineered what is termed the "M Plan", where ANC branches were to be broken down into underground cells. Also during this period, in co-operation with Oliver Tambo, Mandela established South Africa's first black legal law firm in the country.

He went on trial for treason in 1956 and was acquitted in 1961. In the wake of the banning of the ANC, Mandela gathered support for the setting up of a military wing within the ANC known as Umkhonto we Sizwe.

In the aftermath of the banning of the ANC and the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, Mandela was detained until 1961 when he went underground in order to lead a campaign for a new national convention. In 1962, Mandela left the country for military training in Algeria, upon his return he was arrested for leaving the country illegally and for incitement to strike. He conducted his own defence. Mandela was convicted and jailed for five years. It was during this time while serving his sentence that he was charged in the Rivonia trial and subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.

During his time in prison, Mandela demonstrated his resolve - leading by example. Robben Island became a centre for learning, a process in which Mandela played an integral part. He rejected offers of freedom twice if he agreed to compromise on his stance about the homelands and on the use of violence. However, shortly after his release, Mandela and the ANC agreed to the suspension of the armed struggle.

In 1993, together with State President F W de Klerk, he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in promoting a democratic South Africa. Forgiveness and reconciliation became the tenets of the period leading up to his election as President of South Africa in May 1994.

Despite officially retiring from public life in 1999, he has continued his compassionate, humanitarian work, taking his tireless fight for peace and human understanding beyond the borders of South Africa. Mandela holds honorary degrees from more than 50 international universities.

Information retrieved 24/11/2003 from and

The content on this page was last updated on 15 March 2014