Mandela, Nelson Rolihlahla (1918- ), South African activist, statesman, and Nobel laureate, who was elected the first black president of South Africa in 1994. Mandela rose to national prominence as the leader of protest against the white minority government’s policy of rigid racial segregation known as apartheid, which officially ended in 1991. Elected president in the country’s first democratic elections, Mandela promised a new multiracial government that would work to reverse the economic and social problems caused by apartheid.
Mandela was born as the son of a Tembu tribal chief in Umtata, in what is now Eastern Cape Province. He became a lawyer, and in 1944 joined the African National Congress (ANC), a civil rights group, and helped establish the organization’s Youth League.
In 1956 Mandela went on trial for treason, but was acquitted in 1961. During this time he married Nkosikazi Nomzamo Madikizela (see Mandela, Winnie); they separated in 1992. In the early 1960s Mandela led the ANC’s paramilitary wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”). Arrested again in August 1962, he was sentenced to five years in prison. While in prison Mandela, along with several others, was convicted of sabotage and treason and in June 1964 was sentenced to life imprisonment. During this period Mandela became a worldwide symbol of resistance to white domination in South Africa.
The government, under President F. W. de Klerk, released Mandela in February 1990 after lifting the ban on the ANC. Mandela assumed leadership of the ANC and led negotiations with the government for a new constitution that would grant political power to the country’s black majority population. In 1991 the government repealed the last of the laws that formed the legal basis for apartheid. Mandela and de Klerk shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in establishing democracy and racial harmony in South Africa.
In May 1994, after the country’s first national elections in which blacks could vote, Mandela became president of South Africa.
“Mandela, Nelson Rolihlahla,” Microsoft(R) Encarta(R) 96 Encyclopedia. (c) 1993-1995 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. (c) Funk & Wagnalls Corporation. All rights reserved.