Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa and anti-apartheid champion, died at his home in Johannesburg, South Africa today, December 5, 2013. The former president was 95.

Born in Mvezo, South Africa on July 18, 1918, Mandela was given the forename Rolihlahla, a Xhosa word meaning “trouble-maker.” His great-grandfather was ruler of the Thembu people in today’s South African Eastern Cape. Mandela was baptized in the Methodist church at 7, where his teacher gave him the name Nelson.

After studying law in the 1940s, Mandela became involved in anti-apartheid politics, rising to the leadership of the African National Congress in 1950. In 1962, he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to overthrow the government. Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years; after an international campaign lobbied the South African government for his freedom, he was released in 1990.

Following his release, Mandela published his autobiography (Long Walk to Freedomand opened negotiations with South African President F.W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid in that country. Along with de Klerk, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his accomplishments in 1993. He was elected president of South Africa in the first multiracial elections there in 1994, a position he held until 1999.

While he was denounced by critics for ties to Marxism, Mandela is often described by South Africans as “the father of the nation.” His record of national reconciliation, domestic progress, and international affairs, and his post-presidential philanthropy, will continue to loom large over South Africa for generations to come.

M B H

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