On December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela, the former activist who overcame a nearly three-decade prison stint to become president of South Africa, passed away at the age of 95 after years of struggling with health issues.
Mandela was known as a freedom fighter, prisoner, civil rights leader, political leader and symbol of integrity and reconciliation not only for South Africa, but for the world.
His lifelong mission to end apartheid started when he left school early to join the African National Congress . He rose quickly in the organization, and was elected president of the organization in 1950.
In 1962, Mandela secretly left South Africa, traveling around Africa and England to gain support. He also trained in Morocco and Ethiopia. When he returned, he was arrested and charged with illegal exit of the country and incitement to strike. He was then sentenced to life in prison for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.
In 1990, newly elected president F. W. de Klerk made a shocking move that broke from the conservatives of his party, lifting the ban on the ANC and all other formerly banned political parties and calling for a non-racist South Africa. That February, de Klerk unconditionally released Mandela. The then 71-year-old walked out of prison, fist held above his head. He had served 27 years in prison.
After his release, Mandela resumed his leadership of the ANC in its negotiations for an end to apartheid. Incredibly, just four years after his release, on May 10, 1994, he was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected President.
As president, Mandela introduced social and economic programs and presided over the enactment of a new constitution that established a strong central government and prohibited discrimination. He also discouraged black South Africans from seeking revenge for the apartheid period, preaching kindness and forgiveness instead. Mandela only served one term in order to set an example for future leaders, but he remained in the nation’s consciousness until his death.