Remembering Nelson Mandela's Life, From Birth to Death

Former South African Nelson Mandela passed away at age 95 Thursday, leaving behind his wife, six children, and a nation that calls him father. “Nelson Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation, has departed,” South African present Jacob Zuma, announced at a press conference Thursday. “He passed peacefully.”

Mandela's lifelong fight against racism and social injustice earned him a joint Nobel Peace Prize, and a landslide election win in the country’s first integrated presidential election in 1994. Here, we remember his impossibly large life. [Image: Getty Images]

1918: The Beginning

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Born Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela, the future leader became “Nelson” when an African teacher assigned him the name on his first day of school. Mandela’s family lived in a small village in the Transkei province in the Eastern Cape of South Africa— with a huge clan of thirteen children, four wives, and a lot of livestock. The family has royal connections; his great-grandfather was a Thembu king.

Years later, Mandela would remember : “In my youth in the Transkei I listened to the elders of my tribe telling stories of the old days. Amongst the tales they related to me were those of wars fought by our ancestors in defense of the fatherland…I hoped then that life might offer me the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to their freedom struggle.” [Image: Getty Images]

1944: Mandela Forms African National Council Youth League (ANCYL)

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Mandela’s circuitous path to political activism began with a protest against the quality of the food at his all-black university. He was expelled and sent back to his furious family, who threatened to arrange a marriage he wanted no part of. The young Mandela ran away to Johannesberg, where he found work as a night guard at one of the infamous South African mines, which exploited an increasingly disenfranchised underclass of black Africans. When he returned to his legal studies, he did so with a new vigor for fighting racial inequality — and two activist friends, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, pulled him into the African National Congress “liberation party” for blacks in an increasingly divided South Africa (think: segregation, voting restrictions, radical wage gaps between blacks and whites, and much more). Dissatisfied with the leadership’s too-passive approach, the three joined forces to create the African National Council Youth League, which “aimed to involve the masses of people in militant struggles,” protests, and civil disobedience. [Image: Getty Images]

1951-1956: Apartheid Intensifies

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Mandela became a self-described “criminal” and “monk” soon after the formation of the ANCYL, as the Nationalist Party of white “Afrikaaners” won a series of important elections. Their platform was called “apartheid,” or, “apartness.” New laws formalized and codified racial discrimination, including the Separate Representation of Voters Act, and the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act. In response, the ANCYL drafted a Program of Action calling for mass strikes, boycotts, protests and passive resistance. In 1951, Mandela took over as National President of the ANCYL, and in 1952, he became Volunteer-in-Chief of the Defiance Campaign, a nonviolent mass resistance. Mandela’s legal problems began in earnest with ‘The Treason Trial’ in 1955, in which he was arrested for the first time, and put on trial until 1961. He was eventually found innocent of those particular charges. [Image: Getty Images]

1961: Mandela Goes Underground

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As soon as Mandela and his colleagues were acquitted, they went underground to plan mass, armed strikes. The ANC responded to the government banning them as an organization by endorsing an “armed struggle,” called Umkhonto WeSizwe Ku. Mandela escaped and travelled in Africa and Europe, where he studied guerrilla warfare, built support for anti-Apartheid causes, and established his own importance on the international stage. [Image: Getty Images]

1962: Mandela Arrested

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Anti-apartheid protesters gathered to demonstrate against South African laws restricting where blacks could and could not go. Police opened fire, killing 69 people. The government declared a State of Emergency, banned the ANC and other opposition groups, and arrested its leaders – including the just-returned Mandela, who also stood accused of leaving the country illegally. At the end of his trial, he delivered his now-famous Rivionia Trial speech: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Mandela was convicted and sentenced to five years on a penal colony. After more trials and convictions, Mandela ended up spending a total of 18 years there, until he was transferred to a mainland prison in 1982. [Image: Getty Images]

1985: Mandela Starts Negotiations From Jail

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Mandela’s wife Winnie launched active protests against the South African government, drawing international attention to her husband and his colleagues’ imprisonment. Mandela himself continued coordinating with his fellow inmates, often earning backlash from the prison staff. Meanwhile, the anti-apartheid movement began to gain international traction, as politicians, movie stars, and musicians from Bruce Springsteen to Miles Davis took up the cause (you should probably watch this 1985 music video). The more the international community reacted, the more famous the sick, imprisoned Mandela became, and the lounder the calls for his release. He began talking with the South African government in secret, negotiating on behalf of the ANC to end the violent cycle of protests and police crackdowns, leading some of his colleagues to say he’d “sold out.” [Image: Getty Images]

1990: Mandela Released After 27 Years

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Mandela was finally released from prison, to the widespread celebration of black South Africans, who now considered him a national hero. Mandela travelled around the world, meeting with foreign dignitaries, and continued to meet with the South African president to air the grievances of black South Africans. Finally, in 1990, The ANC and the government signed an agreement called the Pretoria Minute, in which both parties agreed to end the armed struggle. The two begin dismantling the apartheid system, which faced a (white-only) referendum in 1992. [Image: Getty Images]

1993: Nobel Peace Prize

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In 1993, Mandela and South African President de Klerk received a joint Nobel Peace Prize, though their relationship has become strained over the issue of continuing police violence. In his acceptance address, Mandela argued that racism in South Africa remained a serious concern: “But there are still some within our country who wrongly believe they can make a contribution to the cause of justice and peace by clinging to the shibboleths that have been proved to spell nothing but disaster…We do not believe that this Nobel Peace Prize is intended as a commendation for matters that have happened and passed.” [Image: Getty Images]

1994: Mandela Elected President

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For the first time in South Africa’s history, all races vote in democratic elections, and Mandela is elected president. The ANC–now a recognized political party–wins 252 of the 400 seats in the national assembly. The New York Times reported: “The power that had belonged to whites since they first settled on this cape 342 years ago passed today to a Parliament as diverse as any in the world, a cast of proud survivors who began their work by electing Nelson Mandela to be the first black president of South Africa. Unopposed, Mr. Mandela was proclaimed president without a word of dissent or even a show of hands, then sat, strangely grim-faced, while his giddy followers whooped in unparliamentary delight.” [Image: Getty Images]

2010: Mandela's Last Public Appearance

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Mandela retired from public life in 2004, but came out of retirement for the occasional big-deal celebration like 2010’s World Cup in Johannesburg. Mandela had become something of a living hero to South Africans, who call him “Father of the Nation,” or, affectionately “Madiba.” He attended at the game with his third wife Graça Machel, to thunderous applause thunderous applause and vuvuzela salute. [Image: Getty Images]