Cambridge Encyclopedia » Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 53

Nelson (Rolihlahla) Mandela - Early life, Political activity, Arrest and imprisonment, ANC presidency and presidency of South Africa, International diplomacy

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South African statesman and president (1994–99), born in Transkei, SE South Africa. He was a lawyer in Johannesburg, then joined the African National Congress in 1944. For the next 20 years he directed a campaign of defiance against the South African government and its racist policies, orchestrating in 1961 a three-day national strike. In 1964 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for political offences. He continued to be such a potent symbol of black resistance that the 1980s saw a co-ordinated international campaign for his release. His first wife, Winnie, was also frequently subjected to restrictions on her personal freedom. He was released from prison in 1990, after President F W de Klerk had unbanned the ANC, removed restrictions on political groups, and suspended executions. Mandela immediately urged foreign powers not to reduce their pressure on the South African government for constitutional reform. He was elected president of the African National Congress in 1991, stepping down in 1997. He divorced Winnie in 1996 and married Graça Machel in 1998. In 1993 he shared the Nobel Prize for Peace with de Klerk for their work towards dismantling apartheid, and in 1995 was awarded the Order of Merit. He retired from active politics at the 1999 general election but maintained a busy schedule, raising money for his Mandela Foundation to build schools and clinics in South Africa's rural heartland and serving as a mediator in Burundi's civil war. In June 2004 he announced his formal retirement from public life.

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