Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in Umtata, South Africa. His father was the chief of the Tembu, a Xhosa-speaking people. As a young adult, Mandela studied law. He became a lawyer in the early 1940s.
Mandela wanted equal rights for South Africa’s black people. Although blacks made up most of the country’s population, whites controlled the government. Blacks had few rights under apartheid. In 1944 Mandela joined a group called the African National Congress (ANC). The ANC was leading the fight against apartheid. In 1949 Mandela became a leader of the ANC.
Mandela later helped the ANC to create a secret military force. His work got him in trouble with South Africa’s government. In 1962 the government put him in prison. In 1964 Mandela and other ANC leaders were sentenced to life in prison.
Mandela became famous during his years in prison. Many South Africans worked to free him. International groups and people in other countries also supported Mandela’s cause. In 1990 South African President F.W. de Klerk finally freed Mandela.
Mandela became president of the ANC in 1991. He and de Klerk worked together to end apartheid. In 1993 the two men were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
As president, Mandela set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This group investigated human rights crimes that had happened under the former government. Mandela also improved housing, education and living standards for people of colour.
Mandela stepped down as head of the ANC in 1997. He retired from politics in 1999, after one term as president.
After his presidency, Mandela set up the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The group promoted peace and human rights. Mandela also supported other causes, such as fighting AIDS and ending world poverty. Mandela died on 5 December 2013.