One of the giants of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela passes away at the age of 95.
Mandela’s career was marked not only by his heroic resistance to racism, but also by his poised and soft spoken demeanor.
After enduring nearly three decades of prison, much of it at hard labor in a lime quarry, Mandela emerged as a gentle leader who became South Africa’s first black president. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in ending apartheid without violence, and later became a global statesman who inspired millions people around the world.
Mandela was born in 1918, the son of a tribal leader, in a remote village in South Africa.
His tribal name, Rolihlahla, meant “troublemaker,” a moniker Mandela would more than live up to in his lifetime.
In 1952, he emerged onto the national stage when he helped organize the first country-wide protests called the Defiance Campaign. That same year he opened the country’s first black law firm.
Ruth Mopati, his secretary at the firm, wrote about the way he was then in the book “Mandela,” saying, “He was able to relate to people with respect and therefore he was respected in return.”
While Mandela’s party, the African National Congress, had always been dedicated to non-violence, in 1960 the ANC was banned to prevent further protests after police shot dead 69 black protestors in what became known as the Sharpeville massacre.
The events radicalized the organization and led to the creation of the ANC military wing, for which Mandela became its first commander in 1961.
In 1962, Mandela was sent to prison on a charge of inciting a strike.
“At 1:30 in the morning, on March 30, I was awakened by sharp, unfriendly knocks at my door, the unmistakable signature of the police. ‘The time has come,’ I said to myself as I opened the door to find half a dozen armed security policemen,” Mandela said.
Two years later, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the white government. Much of the next 27 years in prison were spent in the infamous Robben Island prison where he did hard labor in a lime quarry.
During his nearly three decades behind bars, Mandela would become a myth. The government even banned any use of Mandela’s image or words, leaving a whole generation to grow up knowing little about the world’s most famous political prisoner.