The role played by Nelson Mandela in modern history is that of a strategic leader who helped end apartheid and bring free elections and democracy to South Africa. Mandela's importance to modern history centers around his resilience in the face of extreme adversity and his principled willingness to sacrifice his life for his beliefs. Although imprisoned for treason by the apartheid government of South Africa, Mandela's steadfast adherence to his cause helped to sway world opinion against the apartheid regime and bring about the international sanctions that eventually led to his release and election to the country's presidency.
The key to Mandela's political achievements was his ability to sway world opinion and to function as an effectively persuasive force by his actions and example. Skilled in the use of symbolism in word and in deed, he became an icon for human rights. His leadership strategies can be studied as a model by which complex societal forces can be woven together across differing legal, political and economic domains into a nation-altering transformational force.