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Nelson Mandela: an incredible life in pictures

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on Dec 06, 2013 at 14:28

The journey is over for former South African president Nelson Mandela. We highlight some of the key moments of an amazing life.

Early life

In 1939 Mandela enroled for a degree at the elite black University of Fort Hare where he aimed to develop the skills to become 'an interpreter or a clerk in the Native Affairs Department.' It was at Fort Hare that Mandela met members of the African National Congress (ANC), such as Oliver Tambo who became a life-long comrade. Both were expelled for taking part in a student protest in 1940.

Joins the ANC

The South African goverment responsed to a non-violent campaign against apartheid in 1952 by arresting over 8,000 people and the leaders of the campaign, including Mandela, were convicted for 'statutory communism'. With the campaign petering out, Mandela and Oliver Tambo opened the first black law firm in South Africa but it came under pressure from the authorities and was forced to relocate.

Armed struggle

Following the forced removal of black families from the Sophiatown suburb of Johannesburg in 1955, Mandela saw the ANC as having 'no alternative to armed and violent resistance' and played a key role in preparing the ANC for armed struggle. In 1956, Mandela was arrested with most of the ANC executive and charged with 'high treason'. The trial lasted six years, until the judges found the accused not guilty. During the trial the Sharpeville massacre took place and the ANC was banned.

The ANC responded by going underground and Mandela co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), which went on to become the armed wing of the ANC.

Arrest & trial

Back in South Africa Mandela was arrested, accused of inciting strikes and leaving the country without permission. He was sentenced to five years in prison. While serving his sentence police raided the farm used by MK and found evidence linking Mandela to the organisation.

Mandela and nine other leading figures of the ANC were tried on a number of charges related to sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government. Mandela and seven others were sentenced to life imprisonment.


Mandela spent 27 years in prison, with 18 spent on Robben Island. Towards the end of his sentence he was moved off the island so he could begin peace talks with the South African government in secret.

Leaving prison & end of apartheid

Mandela was released from prison in 1990 after negotiations with F.W. de Klerk. Once released Mandela took part in negotiations which brought the apartheid system to an end.

First black President

In 1994, Mandela became South Africa’s first black President after the ANC won the first multi-racial elections.

National reconciliation

Mandela saw national reconciliation as the key task of his presidency. Part of this saw him encouraging black South Africans to support the national rugby team during the 1995 World Cup. When South Africa won the world cup he presented the trophy to Springbok captain Francis Pienaar.

Time as president

During his time as President, Mandela’s administration helped modernise the South African economy by adopting liberal economic policies to attract foreign investment. But the administration was mired in corruption scandals. In 1999 he stepped down and retired from politics.


Despite retiring, Mandela continued to have a busy public life, involved in charitable work. At this point he started to become increasingly critical of the US and UK, particularly over the war in Iraq.


In 2004, aged 85 Mandela announced he was ‘retiring from retirement’ and drawing back from public life. Public appearances and pronouncements became scarce while he struggled with illness, before he finally succumbed to a lung infection aged 95.

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