The life of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela worked for equality in South Africa from 1942 until his retirement from public life in 2004. Here’s a look at his remarkable life:

Rolihlahla Mandela is born into a royal family of the Thembu tribe, the Xhosa people, in Mvezo, South Africa. He was given the name Nelson by his teacher on the first day of school.

Mandela begins attending African National Congress meetings.

Mandela marries Evelyn Ntoko Mase. They have four children together before divorcing in 1958.

Prime Minister Jan Smuts is defeated in his bid for reelection. The National Party comes to power advocating a policy of apartheid, meaning “apartness.” New laws are implemented codifying racial discrimination.

Mandela becomes president of the ANC Youth League, which he helped found with Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu. The Youth League campaigns for the repeal of discriminatory laws.

(Associated Press)

Mandela leads a campaign of civil disobedience calling on the government to repeal all unjust laws. On July 30, Mandela and 19 others are arrested for their roles in the Defiance Campaign. Mandela gets a suspended sentence and is barred from attending meetings or leaving Johannesburg.

Mandela and Tambo open South Africa’s first black law firm in central Johannesburg.

(Associated Press)

Mandela is detained along with 155 others and charged with treason. The trial, which lasts until 1961, ends in acquittal.

(The International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa)

Marries Nomzamo Winnifred Madikizela, better known as Winnie. They eventually have two daughters together — Zenani, born in 1959, and Zindziswa, in 1960.

On March 21, 1960, 69 unarmed black protesters are killed by police in Sharpeville while demonstating against the government’s requirement that nonwhites carry identity cards as passes. A state of emergency is declared on March 30.

The South African government outlaws the Pan Africanist Congress and the ANC.

(Dennis Lee Royle/Associated Press)

On Aug. 5, Mandela is charged with incitement and leaving the country illegally. On Aug. 16, Mandela’s wife, Winnie, joins protesters demanding his release. On Nov. 7, Mandela is sentenced to five years in prison.

(Themba Hadebe/Associated Press)

With Mandela in jail, police raid ANC offices in Rivonia and seize documents outlining a guerrilla campaign against the government. Mandela and nine others are charged with sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Mandela’s “I am prepared to die” statement from the dock at the opening of the defense case in the “Rivonia” trial.

Judge Quartus de Wet sentences Mandela and seven other foes of apartheid to life in prison.

Nelson Mandela is moved to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town. He is allowed to see and touch his wife and daughters for the first time in 20 years as the usual glass barriers and microphones are dispensed with.

Mandela has been in prison for more than 20 years. The 65-year-old head of the outlawed ANC continues to be the inspirational leader of South Africa’s black nationalist movement.


Mandela rejects South African terms for conditional freedom and instead sets forth his own terms for negotiations between his outlawed organization and the nation’s white regime. South African President Pieter W. Botha, in a gesture meant to demonstrate his government’s commitment to reform, had offered to free Mandela and other black nationalist leaders if they renounced violence as a means of fighting apartheid and agreed to obey the country’s strict internal security laws. “I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free,” Mandela said in a message from his prison cell in Cape Town, where he was serving the life sentence imposed in 1964 after his conviction on charges of sabotage and plotting revolution.

Mandela contracts tuberculosis in prison and is hospitalized at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town.

Mandela is moved to Victor Verster Prison. The transfer marks the first time since 1962 that he has lived outside a prison cell, other than hospital stays. It is widely viewed as the beginning of a “phased release” for Mandela.

Mandela travels 60 miles from Victor Verster Prison to meet with outgoing President Botha at the presidential mansion in Cape Town. One week later, Mandela’s comments come in the first statement by him the government has approved for public release since 1985. “I would also like to confirm that my release is not an issue at this stage. I only would like to contribute to the creation of the climate which would promote peace in South Africa.”

After 27 years in South African prisons, freedom looms for Mandela. Government officials say his release, while not possible before September elections, may nevertheless be only a matter of months away.

Mandela, the inspirational leader of the black rebellion against apartheid, has become during more than 27 years in prison a figure of almost mythic proportions among South African blacks, millions of whom have never heard or seen him.

(Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images)

Mandela is released after 27 years in prison to throngs of supporters. Read Mandela’s address to a rally in Cape Town on his release from prison.

(Douglas R. Burrows/Los Angeles Times)

Mandela comes to Los Angeles on the last leg of an eight-city U.S. tour and in a series of addresses asks Hollywood celebrities and inner-city students alike to keep fighting against white minority rule in South Africa.

(John Parkin/Associated Press)

Mandela is elected president of the African National Congress. The voting at the 2,000-delegate national ANC conference, the first such legal gathering of the organization in South Africa in more than three decades, gives Mandela and a new slate of leaders a strong mandate to speak for the black majority in crucial constitutional negotiations expected later in the year.

(Jon Eeg/Associated Press)

Mandela shares the Nobel Peace Prize with South African President Frederik W. de Klerk for their joint leadership of a negotiated transfer of power from the white minority to the black majority.

(Los Angeles Times)

Mandela, 75, declares victory in South Africa’s first all-race election on behalf of his African National Congress party. In an emotional speech before an ecstatic crowd, the silver-haired leader of the African National Congress calls the success of his political and racial revolution “a joyous night for the human spirit” and urges his still-stunned country to “celebrate the birth of democracy.” A week later, Parliament unanimously elects him president.

(Los Angeles Times)

Mandela is sworn in as South Africa’s first black president by Chief Justice Michael Corbett in Pretoria. Princes, presidents and prime ministers — 6,036 dignitaries in all, from nearly every country in the world — watch as Mandela strides to the podium, carefully puts on his gold reading glasses and begins to read the 133-word oath of office with his left hand on a goatskin-covered Bible. Listen to Mandela’s inaugural speeech.

In his first State of the Nation speech Mandela outlines his vision for South Africa. The nationally televised speech before a joint session of the multiracial National Assembly and Senate in the Parliament building in Cape Town sets a healing tone and a moderate course for the new democracy as it struggles to shed the social and economic inequities of apartheid.

Mandela addresses the U.N. General Assembly for the first time as president of South Africa and pledges to wipe out racism in his divided country. Since his release from prison in 1990, Mandela had spoken at the United Nations twice before. Mandela says the historic change in South Africa “has come about not least because of the great efforts in which the U.N. engaged to ensure the suppression of the apartheid crime against humanity.”

Mandela meets with President Clinton to discuss aid for economic development, housing, education and electrification in South Africa.

Mandela addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Read Mandela’s address.

Mandela’s autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” is published.

(John Moore/Associated Press)

After weeks of criticism and controversy, Mandela personally fires his estranged wife, Winnie, as a deputy Cabinet minister for insubordination. She is later reinstated on a legal technicality, but he quickly fires her again. She resigns hours before the second dismissal takes effect.

Mandela after a year as president — a year of public acclaim and private pain.

Mandela’s lawyer says the president seeks an amicable divorce from his estranged wife, Winnie. Mandela legally separated from her in April 1992, two years after his release from prison.

(Adil Bradlow/Associated Press)

Mandela and Winnie are divorced after an emotional two-day trial that forces him to publicly accuse her of adultery.

Addressing the opening session of a weeklong ANC convention, at which he will officially retire as ANC leader, Mandela gives a stinging farewell speech, accusing some white South Africans of trying to sabotage the country’s new democracy.

(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Mandela and President Clinton make an emotional journey to Robben Island, the prison compound where Mandela spent 18 years of his incarceration.

(Adil Bradlow/Associated Press)

Mandela marries Graca Machel of Mozambique on his 80th birthday. The couple, who met in 1990 shortly after Mandela was released from prison, have been publicly seeing each other for about two years. Machel, 52, is a lawyer and the widow of Mozambican President Samora Machel.

(Juda Ngwenya/AFP)

After five years in office, Mandela’s presidential term comes to an end. Delegations from more than 100 countries, including a U.S. contingent headed by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, are on hand to witness his retirement and the swearing-in of his successor, Thabo Mbeki.

(Paul J. Richards/AFP)

Under pressure from former President Mandela and President Clinton, most parties to Burundian peace talks sign an agreement to end the seven-year civil war.

At the 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Mandela makes an impassioned plea for more funds to fight tuberculosis, the lung disease that is the leading cause of death amoung AIDS victims in Africa. “We cannot win the battle against AIDS if we do not also fight TB. TB is too often a death sentence for people with AIDS. It does not have to be this way,” he says. Friends say it could be among his last public appearances.

(Lefty Shivambu/AFP/Getty Images)

After his son Makgatho dies from complications of AIDS, Mandela urges South Africans to fight the disease’s stigma by speaking openly about it.

(Nelson Mandela Foundation)

His book “Conversations With Myself” is released with a foreword by President Obama.

After spending severals days in Milpark Hospital, Mandela returns home. Hospital officials announce that he had suffered an acute respiratory infection but was recovering well.

(Peter Morey/EPA)

Mandela celebrates his 93rd birthday with family in his rural hometown. South Africans are encouraged to mark Mandela Day, which began in 2009, by giving 67 minutes to a humanitarian cause — or just to do a good deed — in honor of Mandela’s 67 years of public service to his country.

(Themba Hadebe/Pool/EPA)

South Africa’s famous former first family — the Mandelas — will star in a TV reality show next year. But former President Nelson Mandela, 93 and increasingly frail, won’t be a part of the show.

(AP Photo / Peter Morey)

President Clinton, accompanied by his daughter, Chelsea, visits with Mandela on the eve of his 94th birthday.

Mandela is hospitalized for tests. The office of President Jacob Zuma reassures South Africans in a statement that there was no cause for alarm for the man they know affectionately as Madiba.


South Africans heave a sigh of relief as their beloved anti-apartheid hero, Nelson Mandela, is sent home from the hospital after almost three weeks. The office of President Jacob Zuma says Mandela will continue to get medical treatment at his home in the upscale northern Johannesburg suburb of Houghton.

Stones painted with get-well messages are left outside Mandela's residence in the Houghton area of Johannesburg.
Stones painted with get-well messages are left outside Mandela's residence in the Houghton area of Johannesburg. (Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

Mandela is discharged from a hospital after 10 days of treatment for pneumonia. He also had been hospitalized with breathing difficulties the previous month, as well, prompting alarm about his health. South African officials report that Mandela will continue to receive medical care at home.

Mandela pictured more than three weeks after his April release from hospital.
Mandela pictured more than three weeks after his April release from hospital. (Associated Press)

Mandela suffers a recurrence of lung infection. A statement from the office of President Jacob Zuma says his condition deteriorated overnight and he was transferred to a Pretoria hospital. “He remains in a serious but stable condition,” the statement says.

Congregants sing as they pray for Mandela during Sunday service at Regina Mundi church in Soweto township.
Congregants sing as they pray for Mandela during Sunday service at Regina Mundi church in Soweto township. (Dai Kurokawa / EPA / June 23, 2013)

Nelson Mandela’s health is now in critical condition. The office of President Jacob Zuma said in a statement that he had visited the 94-year-old anti-apartheid leader at a hospital Sunday evening and was informed by the medical team that Mandela’s condition had become critical in the past 24 hours.

“The doctors are doing everything possible to get his condition to improve and are ensuring that Madiba is well-looked after and is comfortable. He is in good hands,” Zuma said in the statement, using Mandela’s clan name.

(Christopher Furlong / Getty Images)

Joyful crowds gather to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday outside the Pretoria hospital where he is being treated. South African President Jacob Zuma visits the anti-apartheid hero and releases a statement saying that Mandela’s health continues to improve.

Nelson Mandela is discharged from the hospital but will continue receiving care at home in the upscale Houghton suburb of Johannesburg, under the close supervision of doctors.

(Debbie Yazbek / AFP/ Getty Images)

Nelson Mandela, the beloved first black president of South Africa who spent 27 years in prison for fighting the injustice of apartheid, dies at the age of 95.

Sources: Times research, The Nelson Mandela Foundation

Credits: Maloy Moore, Ben Welsh, Scott Wilson, Alexandra Zavis, TimelineSetter