Who Is Mandela?


Quick Answer

Nelson Mandela was a South African philanthropist, anti-apartheid leader and politician throughout the mid and late 20th century. He served as the president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 and is best known for helping to bring an end to apartheid and human rights atrocities in South Africa.

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Full Answer

Mandela was born in 1918 in a village in South Africa's Cape Province and was the first member in his family to attend school. He became fervently involved in the political climate of the racially divided South Africa. The region was dominated by the oppressive white minority regime and, as a result, fell victim to segregation and a social system based on race. This became known as apartheid, where basic rights of nonwhites were violated.

Beginning in the 1940s, Mandela became a member of the African National Congress party, where he led peaceful protests and armed revolts against the regime. The struggles continued over the next two decades. In 1961, Mandela started a campaign to withdraw from the British Commonwealth and become an independent republic. Mandela was soon arrested and tried for treason. He spent nearly three decades behind bars. During that time he earned a law degree and rallied his fellow prisoners to protest peacefully against the government.

In 1989, the conservative president, F.W. de Klerk, declared South Africa a nonracist state and called for the release of political prisoners. After 27 years in prison, Mandela was released. In the years to come, he went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize and become the first president of a multiracial parliament in South Africa's history.

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