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Nelson Mandela


Nelson Mandela

(Photo by Gareth Davies/Getty Images)

Who is he?:

He first joined the African National Congress as a student in 1942, working toward the goal of emancipation from apartheid. He spent 27 years behind bars before emerging in 1990 and becoming president of the ANC. In 1993, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He served as president of South Africa from 1994-99.


July 18, 1918, in the district of Umtata. His family homestead remains at rural Qunu today. Born Rolihlahla Mandela into a branch of the Thembu dynasty, he was given the name Nelson by a teacher at age 7.

Personal life:

Married three times: First, to Evelyn Ntoko Mase, with whom he had two sons and two daughters. They divorced after 13 years together. Second, to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, with whom he had two daughters. They divorced in 1996. Third, to Graca Machel, widow of Mozambique president Samora Machel, in 1998. The two are still married.

Political affiliation:

African National Congress, a Democratic Socialist party founded in 1912.


Intent on becoming a lawyer, he became involved in the resistance movement against apartheid while studying at University College of Fort Hare, where he was suspended for participating in a protest boycott. (He would later study for and receive a bachelor's degree in law during his decades behind bars.) Imprisoned on charges including sabotage, Mandela spent 27 years behind bars until released by pPresident F.W. de Klerk, who had just replaced apartheid supporter P.W. Botha. Upon his election as president, Mandela made de Klerk his first deputy in a Government of National Unity.


Mandela retired from political life in 1999, at which point he was succeeded by Thabo Mbeki in the South African presidency. He continues to reap awards, honors, and accolades from around the globe for his leadership and lifetime achievements. On his 90th birthday, he appealed for the rich to give greater assistance to the poor. "There are many people in South Africa who are rich and who can share those riches with those not so fortunate who have not been able to conquer poverty," he said. Unemployment at the time of this statement stood at about 40 percent in South Africa.


"I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself. I dream of the realization of unity of Africa whereby its leaders, some of whom are highly competent and experienced, can unite in their efforts to improve and to solve the problems of Africa." -- in a 2000 interview with National Geographic
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