Rolihlahla Mandela, the son of a Thembu tribal chief, was born in Mvezo, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape on 18 July 1918. He was the first of his family to go to school. It was there he received the name Nelson – it was customary for school children to be given English names. In 1941, he fled to Johannesburg to avoid an arranged marriage. He met Walter Sisulu who helped him get work at law firm Witkin Sidelsky. Mr Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944.
Mr Mandela qualified as a lawyer and in 1952 set up the country’s first black law firm with Oliver Tambo.
Fearing a ban by the apartheid government, the ANC asked Mr Mandela to make plans to ensure the party could work underground.
He was arrested in 1956 and charged with treason along with 155 others. The trial lasted four-and-a-half-years, and ended with his being acquitted. In 1958, he married his second wife, Winnie Madikizela.
After police killed 69 protesters in Sharpeville in March 1960, the government feared retaliation, so it declared a state of emergency and then banned the ANC. The organisation formed a military wing, led by Mr Mandela.
In 1962, Mr Mandela was arrested and tried for leaving the country illegally. In 1963, while in prison, he was charged with sabotage. He and seven others were sentenced to life in 1964 and jailed on Robben Island.
Dire Straits and Eric Clapton at Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday tribute
The international community started to tighten sanctions which had been first imposed on the apartheid regime in 1967. By 1990, the pressure led to President FW de Klerk lifting the ban on the ANC.
On 11 February 1990, Mr Mandela was freed after 27 years in prison. Crowds cheered as he and his wife Winnie left the prison grounds. The next year, Mr Mandela was elected ANC president at the party’s first national conference. Talks began on forming a new, multi-racial democracy.