Nelson Mandela was born into the royal family of the Tembu at Qunu, near Umtata, on 18 July 1918 in the Eastern Cape Province. His father was the principal councilor to the Acting Paramount Chief of Tembuland.
After receiving a primary education at a local mission school, Nelson Mandela was sent to Healdtown where he matriculated. He then enrolled at Fort Hare University for a Bachelor of Arts Degree, where he was elected onto the Student's Representative council.
Mandela was suspended from university for joining in a protest boycott. After his suspension he went to Johannesburg where he completed his BA by correspondence. He took articles of clerkship and commenced study for his LLB. It was during this time that he began taking a serious interest in politics.
During the 1950s, Mandela was the victim of various forms of repression. He was banned, arrested and imprisoned. Between 1956 and 1961 he was one of the accused in the Treason Trial, which was at a significant cost to his legal practice and political work. Until this point Mandela and his co-accused had consistently advised their followers to adopt a peaceful course of action and to avoid all violence.
In 1961, with the ANC now illegal, the struggle against apartheid picked up threads from its underground headquarters. Nelson Mandela emerged at this time as the leading figure in this new phase of the struggle.
Moving from place to place, forced to live apart from his family to evade detection by the government informers and police spies, Mandela had to adopt a number of disguises - sometimes he dressed as a common labourer, at other times as a chauffeur. His successful evasion of the police earned him the title of the Black Pimpernel.
In 1961 Umkhonto we Sizwe was formed with Mandela as its commander-in-chief. In 1962 Mandela left the country unlawfully and traveled abroad for several months. Not long after his return to South Africa, Mandela was arrested and charged with illegal exit from the country and incitement to strike.
He was convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment. While serving his sentence, he was charged in the Rivonia Trial with sabotage. Mandela's statements in court during this trial are heralded as classic speeches in the history of the resistance to apartheid and they have been an inspiration to all who have opposed it.
Now sentenced to life imprisonment, Mandela began his sentence in the notorious Robben Island Prison. Despite terrible provocation, he has never answered racism with racism. Released in 1990, Nelson Mandela became the first president of the newly democratic South Africa four years later.
In 1993 he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for a life that symbolizes the triumph of the human spirit over man's inhumanity to man.
Nelson Mandela retired from public life in June 1999. He currently resides in his birthplace: Qunu, Transkei.