Mvezo, South Africa
July 18, 1918
Rolihlahla Mandela was born into a royal African family. His given name means “troublemaker” and he lived up to it for the colonials in South Africa. The Nelson part came from a colonial teacher who couldn’t pronounce his real name. Mandela was the first of his family to go to school and he eventually went to university, finishing his degree in Johannesburg.
Mandela started a law firm to assist blacks in receiving legal help during the segregationist apartheid era started in 1948. In the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, he encourage non-violent resistance against the laws. In 1961 he turned to violence as a last resort and formed the “Spear of the Nation” wing of the African National Congress (ANC). The following year he arrested and sentenced to jail along with many of the leaders of the ANC. He was given a life sentence and sent to Robben Island. While in prison, Mandela remained active in trying to fight for freedom from oppression for his people.
In 1990, the new president of South Africa, William de Klerk, released Mandela from jail – an event that was seen around the world. The two of them worked on ending apartheid which led to the nation’s first democratic elections in 1994. He served one term and retired at the age of 81. He has since become a strong supporter of the ONE Campaign to end poverty and a founding member of The Elders. He has won many honours including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.