Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, South African anti-apartheid revolutionary icon, politician, philanthropist and first black president died December 5 at the age of 95. Mandela had been recovering at home in recent months from a lung ailment. He led South Africa’s transition from white-minority rule in the 1990s, to the country’s current multi-party democratic government. Dismantling the institutionalized system of racism called apartheid became a lifetime devotion for the man known to fellow South Africans as “Madiba” (father).
Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 into a royal Xhosa family in South Africa’s Cape Province. The forename Rolihlahla, is a Xhosa term colloquially meaning “troublemaker”. As a young boy raised along with two sisters, Mandela’s job was tending herds of cattle. Baptised a Methodist, Mandela was given the English forename of “Nelson” by his teacher. At about age nine, Nelson died of a lung ailment.
Though his parents were illiterate, Mandela ultimately became a lawyer. He became increasingly active against the oppression of black South Africans under apartheid. Charged with treason for activities with the outlawed African National Congress, Mandela spent 27 years in three prisons (most famous of them Robben Island).
World economic pressure on South Africa ultimately led to the demise of apartheid. Mandela was released from prison in Feb 1990 and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. The following year Mandela began his first and only term as president of South Africa, serving through 1999.
Mandela’s life has been depicted many times in cinematic form. Most recently he is portrayed byIdris Elba in the 2013 film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.