Nelson Mandela was born in the Transkei region of South Africa on July 18, 1918. His birth name was Rolihlahla. Nelson’s father, Henry Mandela, was the chief of the local town. His mother was the chief’s third wife. Nelson was one of 13 children. When he was nine years old, his father died.
Nelson was the first member of his family to go to school. He first attended school at a local mission. Mandela was given his english name when he started school. One of his teachers named him “Nelson”. In 1937, He moved to Healdtown to attend high school. After graduation, Mandela began studying at the University of Fort Hare. This was a top school for black Africans. Many students from Fort Hare went on to play leading roles in the independence struggles of a number of African countries. At Fort Hare, Mandela met Oliver Tambo. The two became lifelong friends and colleagues.
Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa on May 10, 1994, after spending almost 27 years in prison for his political activism. In the 1960s, Mandela had been a leading member of the African National Congress. This group fought against apartheid in South Africa. Mandela’s fight for black freedom led to his imprisonment in 1964. Even in prison, Mandela was a powerful symbol of the anti apartheid movement to people worldwide.
Mandela was first held in prison on Robben Island. It was located off the coast from Cape Town. Conditions in prison were harsh. Prisoners had a small cell with a thin mat for a bed and a bucket for a toilet. Black prisoners received the least food. Political prisoners, like Mandela, had almost no right. He was allowed just one visitor and one letter every six months. In 1985, South Africa President offered to release Mandela from prison. Mandela had to promise to give up his fight against apartheid. He refused.
After his release from prison in 1990, Mandela worked with F.W. De klerk, South Africa’s president, to end apartheid peacefully. For their efforts, the men were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Shortly after winning this award, Mandela was elected to be president of South Africa. He stayed in this position until his retirement in 1999.
Nelson Mandela has always believed in a free society where people live together in harmony. His struggle to end apartheid remains an inspiration for millions of people. In November 2009, the United Nations announced that July 18, Mandela’s birthday, is to be known as “Mandela Day.”