Members of the press took pictures of Nelson Mandela shortly after he was released from prison in 1990.
When Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013, at the age of 95, the people of South Africa and the world lost one of their most beloved leaders. Mandela spent about 70 years of his life fighting for the freedom and civil rights of the South African people and others around the globe. His legacy will continue to inspire those working for peace, freedom, and social justice for many years to come.
Mandela’s civil rights activism began in his twenties when he joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1942. The ANC was a political party that worked for equal rights for black South Africans. In 1948, white South Africans voted the National Party into power. The National Party believed in apartheid, or separateness. This policy separated black South Africans from white South Africans. The new government passed laws requiring all non-whites to live in the outskirts of towns and in separate areas called townships. Townships were often crowded clusters of tiny homes without electricity or running water.
For a number of years, Nelson Mandela and the ANC peacefully protested against apartheid. However, the government responded harshly with arrests and sometimes violence. In 1962, after some protests became violent, the government arrested Mandela and other ANC leaders in an attempt to stop the protests. Mandela was sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa.
Countries around the world were shocked by the National Party’s brutal enforcement of apartheid and began to limit trade with South Africa. Over time, the economy and the government began to weaken. Many white South Africans began to speak out against apartheid. In 1989, F.W. de Klerk became leader of the National Party and president of South Africa. He ordered Mandela’s release in 1990 after Mandela had been in prison for 27 years.
Mandela began working with de Klerk to bring an end to apartheid and to make South Africa a truly democratic country. He helped negotiate free elections so that all adult citizens, regardless of race, would be allowed to vote. In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work together. Then, in May 1994, at the age of 77, Mandela became the first black president of South Africa.
Between 1994 and 1999, Mandela worked on a peaceful transition from apartheid and the rule of the National Party. He promoted good relations between white and black South Africans. He also improved the nation’s economy through creation of jobs, housing, and national health care. In 1996, Mandela signed into law a new constitution for the nation. It outlined a democratic government based on majority rule. It also guaranteed minority rights and freedom of speech.
In 1999, Mandela retired from active politics. However, he kept busy raising money to build schools and clinics in rural areas of South Africa. He also continued to stay involved in world affairs, promoting peace and equality around the globe.
On December 10, 2013, tens of thousands of South Africans and nearly 100 world leaders gathered for a memorial service to pay tribute to Mandela in FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attended the ceremony along with President Jimmy Carter, President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President George W. Bush, and former First Lady Laura Bush. President Obama delivered a 20-minute-long eulogy. He compared Mandela to other great leaders in history, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and America’s founders. He said that Mandela was the “last great liberator of the 20th century.”
Image credit: ©Paul Weinberg/Anzenberger/Redux
- Nelson Mandela Day–Social Studies Activities
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