Nelson Mandela was born into the Royal Family of the Xhosa nation, the second largest in South Africa. He was a brilliant student of law and quickly became involved in various political movements.

In 1942, he joined the African National Congress (ANC), which was fighting against the political domination of the White minority. When apartheid became official in 1948, he enlisted in active nonviolent resistance. Also, as a lawyer, he accepted no fee for helping the most disadvantaged Blacks.

The 1960 Sharpeville Massacre upset his principles. He abandoned his strategy of nonviolence and founded the Umkhonto we Siswe (Spear of the Nation), an action group that advocated armed struggle. He was a sworn enemy of apartheid and was soon arrested. Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. He became the best known and most popular political prisoner of his time. He also remained in prison longer than any other political prisoner ever.

On July 7, 1988, he was finally released from prison but remained under house arrest until February 1990, when the newly elected President Frederik de Klerk appealed to him to restore peace to the country. The two men would work together for the abolition of apartheid and the establishment of true democracy in South Africa. They would receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. In 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected the first president of the Republic of South Africa.

Author:  Marianne Giguère

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