Former South African president and activist Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela died on Thursday after battling a recurring lung infection. He was 95.
Mandela had recently been hospitalized in Pretoria for more than a month. The Mandela family, his second wife Winnie Mandela, and other close friends visited with the former leader upon his arrival, demonstrating the severity of the situation to South Africans and the global community. Throughout his hospital stay, conflicting reports on Mandela's condition circulated the media, ranging from stable to unresponsive. A Mandela family feud regarding preparations for his passing and his burial also briefly surfaced.
Despite South Africans' gradually coming to terms with the imminent passing of Madiba, the revered icon lived to see his 95th birthday, which coincided with the internationally-celebrated Mandela Day. Community service celebrations took place around the world, in cities like Rome, Bolivia and the Philippines. With the holiday's overarching aim of inspiring individuals to change the world for the better, Mandela Day 2013 helped to place a firm emphasis on the former leader's tolerance and reinforce his renowned legacy.
Born in Transkei, South Africa, on July 18, 1918, Mandela was the son of Chief Henry Mandela of the Tembu Tribe. He later became the first member of his family to attend school; enrolling at the University College of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand and qualifying in law in 1942.
Just two years later, in 1944, Mandela joined the African National Congress and began his ascent into the world of anti-apartheid activism. He also founded a law firm with friend and colleague Oliver Tambo, which offered free and low-cost legal counsel to Blacks.
For nearly the next twenty years, Mandela would devote his energies to non-violent struggle against the country’s repressive apartheid regime, earning him a treason charge of which he was eventually acquitted. However, the arrival of the early sixties brought a new Mandela with new ideas. In 1961, Mandela began to advocate for armed struggle as the most effective way to make changes to the racially oppressive system. With his newfound ideas, he founded the ANC splinter group Umkhonto we Sizwe and organized a three-day workers strike for which he was tried twice and eventually sentenced to life in prison.
Mandela served 27 years in prison and was released in 1990 after president Frederik Willem de Klerk took office and heeded calls from an international campaign launched in Mandela’s favor. After South Africa formally ended apartheid in 1994, Mandela became the first Black president of the country after garnering a majority of votes in the first ever fair, democratic elections.
Although Mandela left office in June 1999, he continued to be an internationally recognized personality until his death.
In 1993, he received a Nobel Peace Prize alongside apartheid-era South African president de Klerk for “their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.” In 1998, the U.S. government bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor upon Mandela, and in 2009, his birthday was declared as an international day devoted to public service. People around the world have been asked to mark the occasion by giving 67 minutes of their time to work in their local community — one minute for every year of Mandela's public service.
Mandela is survived by his wife Graça Machel, three daughters Makaziwe, Zenani and Zindzi, four step-children, seventeen grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren.
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(Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)