Nelson Mandela is considered by many to be the most important figure in the history of South Africa. He was a revolutionary figure in the country who was imprisoned for speaking out against apartheid and eventually went on to become the President of South Africa. His work for leading the country into a new era made him a critical figure in the country’s history and has helped him to become one of the most highly respected figures in the world.

Early Life

Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in Mvezo, Transkei, a southeastern part of South Africa. He was born under the name of Rolihlahla Mandela and did not get his more commonly used first name until he was in primary school as the school he was at gave all the children traditional English names.

He has learned about his parents’ struggles in the wars of resistance and decided to dedicate much of his life to working towards helping his people to become free in a time when they were still heavily oppressed. In fact, when he was studying at University College of Fort Hare, he was expelled after being a part of a student protest. He would eventually get his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Africa and soon studied law at the University of Witwatersrand.

While in Fort Hare, he joined the Student Representative Council and eventually resigned from his position after protesting the SRC’s lack of power. He then left to Johannesburg after learning that the regent in his home town had been upset with him and arranged a woman to be his wife.

Working At the Start of Apartheid

In 1942, as apartheid was beginning to come into place, Mandela joined the African National Congress. He formed a subgroup in the ANC to work towards encouraging the development of racial equality.

He also directed many anti-apartheid campaigns including the Defiance Campaign of 1952 and the Congress of the People in 1955. He also formed a law firm with partner Oliver Tambo in order to provide legal protection to the country’s black population.

The peaceful pacifist methods of the ANC was becoming unpopular in the 1950s soon after Mandela was charged for treason with regards to his activism. He and the others who were charged were eventually acquitted.


In 1961, Mandela co-founded a new organization called Umkhonto we Sizwe, an organization dedicated to stopping apartheid through sabotage. He organized a workers’ strike that lasted for three days. He was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in starting the protest.

A few years later, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison for sabotage and many other political offenses that were done against apartheid. He was held at the Robben Island prison and even contracted tuberculosis at one time. He did complete a Bachelor of Law program from the University of London through a correspondence program.

Mandela became a major figure for racial equality to the point where the South African government at one point planned on allowing Mandela to escape only to shoot him while he got out. In 1985, Mandela declined a chance to be released as he did not want to give up his right to supporting an armed struggle in doing so.

F.W. de Klerk, the president of South Africa in 1990, granted Mandela’s release in February 11 of that year and allowed the ANC to continue operating. This led to the next major chapter in his life.

The End of Apartheid

Nelson Mandela worked with de Klerk to help in negotiating plans to allow for more freedoms among the black population in South Africa. This would eventually lead to those in the community having the right to vote in elections.

Eventually apartheid weakened and democratic elections would be held in 1994. It was in that year that Mandela was voted in as the president of South Africa.

Mandela heavily promoted the development of racial equality in South Africa and increased the black voice in the country. He also worked to expand the country’s borders to welcome in more people from outside the country with the 1995 Rugby World Cup being a major center stage for the country.

He also established the Reconstruction and Development Plan, a setup designed to help with promoting the rebuilding of South Africa after the end of apartheid. He placed an emphasis on job creation and the improvement of health care to ensure that all people would receive the assistance that they deserve regardless of their health.

In 1996, Mandela established a new constitution for the country. It placed a focus on a stronger central government and ensured that all people would be free to express themselves.

In 1999, Mandela left his position. He did so to meet his promise that he was only going to serve one term as the president of South Africa. He mostly retired from the public life although he continued to offer his support for ANC and other organizations dedicated to promoting equality and support among all people in the country.

After Serving

Nelson Mandela continued to serve the world throughout his life after retirement. He formed his own foundation dedicated tot he control of poverty and AIDS and formed a group of other former leaders known as the Elders in 2007. This group has worked in Asia, Africa and many other poor parts of the world in helping to control humanitarian problems and to promote equality among all people in the country.

Mandela was also open with regards to many international issues. He was opposed to the military conflict in Iraq and was especially important as a mediator between the United Kingdom and Libya during the trial for the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing in 2000. He also helped to control South African military operations within Lesotho and oversaw the country’s efforts in managing the situation. He continued to work for the public and was heavily allied with South Africa at large until his death in late 2013.

The work that Nelson Mandela did for South Africa was critical to the country as it helped to make South Africa into a free and open country for all to be a part of. His work was also essential for promoting peace around the world, thus making him one of the most important and influential figures of the past century.


Robert Gombos

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