News

Nelson Mandela: 1918-2013

South Africa’s first black president dies at 95

December 05, 2013
THEANA CALITZ-BILT—AP

Nelson Mandela was the president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. 

A nation mourns the loss of its former leader, Nelson Mandela, who has died after a long illness. He was 95. 

Jacob Zuma, South Africa's president, announced Mandela's death at a news conference. "We've lost our greatest son," Zuma said.

Mandela was known for ending apartheid, a system that separated whites from nonwhites in South Africa. After spending 27 years in prison for fighting against racial inequality, he became the country’s first democratically elected president. “I think he’s a hero for the world,” said President Barack Obama in a speech during his visit to Senegal in June.

Early Years

Mandela was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918. He grew up poor in a small South African village. When Mandela was nine, he was adopted by and sent to live with his father’s friend, a prosperous clan chief.

In school, Mandela learned about African history and his ancestors’ struggles with discrimination. He wanted to help his countrymen. He later traveled to Johannesburg, where he studied law and opened the country’s first black law practice. He also joined the African National Congress, a group that fought for racial equality.

Fight Against Apartheid

In 1948, the government introduced apartheid, which left the country’s nonwhite majority with few economic opportunities. In response, Mandela traveled throughout South Africa and encouraged people to take part in nonviolent demonstrations against the government’s racial segregation policies. He was arrested for organizing anti-government activities and eventually sentenced to life in prison. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” he said during his trial. “It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela’s imprisonment led to protests around the world and economic sanctions, or limits on trade, against his country.

First Black President

On February 11, 1990, South African president F.W. de Klerk released Mandela from prison, and the two worked together to end apartheid. Three years later, they won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

In 1994, for the first time in South African history, nonwhites were allowed to vote in democratic elections. Mandela was elected president by an overwhelming majority. While in office, he worked to improve housing, education, and economic opportunities for the country’s large black population.

Mandela stepped down as president in 1999. That same year, he created the Nelson Mandela’s Children Fund, a charity that helps poor South African children. “Children are the wealth of our country,” he said in an interview with TFK in 2002. “They must be given love.”

Over the years, Mandela continued working to promote peace around the world. In 2007, he helped found The Elders, an organization of world leaders committed to ending conflicts and promoting human rights. “When you want to get a herd to move in a certain direction,” he told TIME in 1994, “you stand at the back with a stick. Then a few of the more energetic cattle move to the front and the rest of the cattle follow. You are really guiding them from behind. That is how a leader should do his work.”

For more, click here to view a slideshow about Mandela's life.


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