Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa on July 18, 1918 and educated at University College of Fort Hare
and the University of Witwatersrand
where he studied law. He joined the African National Congress in 1944
and was engaged in resistance against the ruling National Party’s apartheid policies after 1948. He went on trial for treason in 1956-1961 and was acquitted in 1961. On June 12, 1964, eight of the accused, including Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment. From 1964 to 1982, he was incarcerated at Robben Island Prison,
off Cape Town; thereafter, he was at Pollsmoor Prison, nearby on the mainland.
During his years in prison, Nelson Mandela’s reputation grew steadily. He was widely accepted as the most significant black leader in South Africa and became a potent symbol of resistance
as the anti-apartheid movement gathered strength. He consistently refused to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom. Nelson Mandela was released on February 11, 1990.
After his release, he plunged himself wholeheartedly into his life’s work, striving to attain the goals he and others had set out almost four decades earlier. In 1991, at the first national conference of the ANC held inside South Africa after the organization had been banned in 1960, Mandela was elected President of the ANC while his lifelong friend and colleague, Oliver Tambo, became the organisation’s National Chairperson.
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” – Statement from the dock at the opening of the defence case in the Rivonia Trial, April 1964.
“We have travelled too far along the road to freedom to turn back now. We shall not be deterred by the threats or the actions of the forces of the past. Our people have the right to hope, the right to a future, the right to life itself. No power on this earth can destroy the thirst for human dignity” – Statement after the Bisho massacre, September 1992.
“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign” – Inauguration speech as President of South Africa, May 1994
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” – Speech at the launch of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, May 1995.
SINN FÉIN PRESIDENT Gerry Adams was chosen to take part in a guard of honour for Nelson Mandela in South Africa as part of the official ANC ceremony after the body of the former leader was handed over by the South African military to his former political party.