Nelson Mandela Is Dead At 95

A look back at the remarkable life of the former South African president.

1. Nelson Mandela, the leader of the struggle against apartheid who became South Africa’s first black president, died Thursday, Dec. 5, after battling a series of illnesses at the age of 95, President Jacob Zuma said in a live televised statement.

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2. President Jacob Zuma announced Mandela will be buried on Sunday, Dec. 15 at his home in Qunu. A memorial service in a Johannesburg stadium will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 10.

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He added that Mandela’s body will lie in state at government buildings in Pretoria from Wednesday, Dec. 11, until the burial. This coming Sunday, Dec. 8, will be a national day of prayer and reflection.

3. Here is a look back at his remarkable legacy:

4. 1918–1943: Early Years

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Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is born on July 18, 1918, in the village of Mvezo, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. The son of a Xhosa tribal chief, Mandela spends his early years preparing to inherit his father’s role of privy councillor to the Thembu kings, attending a Methodist missionary school and learning to read and write at an early age. He attends a prestigious black African boarding high school and continues on to the elite Fort Hare University, but drops out after his first year in December 1940 in order to move to Johannesburg to escape an arranged marriage. He spends three years working in a law firm, during which time he joins the African National Congress political party and becomes involved in the growing South African nationalist movement.

6. 1943–1948: Law Student

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Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela.

Mandela enrolls at the University of Witwatersrand to obtain a law degree, pursuing his studies with his high school friend (and future legal partner) Oliver Tambo. During this time, he joins the ANC, and after years of frustration with the party’s leadership, in 1947 Mandela founds the African National Congress Youth League, of which he is elected secretary.

8. 1948: Legalized Discrimination

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An apartheid notice on a beach near Capetown, denoting the area for whites only.

The National Party of South Africa wins the 1948 general election by advocating a policy of apartheid, meaning “apartness.” Building on years of discrimination against blacks, the National Party adopts apartheid as a way to preserve white supremacy. The system classifies people as either white, Bantu (black), colored (mixed race), or Asian and severely limits freedoms based on race. For example, anyone who is not white is prohibited from voting, all races have separate living areas and schools, blacks are required to carry travel passes at all times, and only whites control the legal system.

10. 1951–1952: From Lawyer to Activist

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Mandela is elected president of the ANC Youth League in 1951. Although he failed to obtain his degree from law school, Mandela passes the qualifying exam required to practice as an attorney in South Africa and Mandela and Oliver Tambo open the first black law firm in South Africa in Johannesburg in 1952. In June, Mandela leads a campaign of civil disobedience against the country’s racist apartheid laws. He and 19 others are arrested for their role in the “Defiance Campaign” and are given a suspended prison sentence.

12. 1961: “Spear of the Nation”

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Mandela delivers remarks in this undated photo from the 1960s.

Spurred by escalating police brutality against peaceful protestors, the ANC, still active despite being outlawed by the government in April 1960, decides to form an underground guerrilla military wing called Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). Mandela, who is now vice president of the ANC, is appointed the group’s first leader.

14. 1962–1990: Life in Prison

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The cell where Nelson Mandela lived for 18 years.

Mandela leaves South Africa illegally in January 1962 and is caught and sentenced to five years in prison upon his return in July. In 1963, the imprisoned Mandela is made to stand trial for sabotage and treason with nine of his comrades after a police raid of an ANC hideout uncovers evidence against him. On June 11, 1964, Mandela and seven others are convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. He is sent to Robben Island, where he serves the first 18 of his 27 years in prison.

Violence on both sides escalates during Mandela’s years behind bars. During this time, he becomes an international symbol of South Africa’s black nationalist movement and resistance to apartheid. In 1985, then-President P.W. Botha offers to free Mandela if he publicly denounced violence as a weapon against apartheid. Mandela refuses and tells the government to get rid of apartheid and grant blacks political rights.

16. February 1990: Freedom

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Mandela and his (second) wife Winnie Madikizela are greeted by large crowds as they leave the prison grounds.

Newly elected president F.W. De Klerk legalizes the ANC, relaxes apartheid laws, and orders the release from jail of Mandela and the other political prisoners who were convicted with him. Mandela walks out of prison a free man on Feb. 11, 1990. After 27 years, he has become a fig­ure of myth­ic pro­por­tions among South Afric­an blacks, and his freedom is cause for national celebration. Mandela is known to most in the country as “Madiba,” his clan name.

18. 1990: Peace Talks

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South Africa’s President Frederik Willem de Klerk (left) and Mandela walk to address the press about their negotiations to end apartheid on May 9, 1990.

Two months after his release, Mandela meets with President F.W. de Klerk in what will become the first of many meetings concerning the end of apartheid and the establishment of a truly democratic government. In August 1990, the ANC agrees to renounce violence in exchange for the release of all remaining political prisoners.

20. 1991: President of the ANC

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Mandela is elected president of the African National Congress on July 5, 1991, in the first legal gathering of the organization in South Africa in more than three decades. Representing the ANC, Mandela negotiates with de Klerk, members of the governing National Party, and other South African political organizations toward the country’s first multiracial elections. It proves a difficult task — negotiations were often strained.

22. 1993: Nobel Peace Prize

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Mandela and de Klerk are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, 1993, for their efforts to bring stability, equality, and true democracy to their country. As a result of their joint leadership, the remaining apartheid laws are repealed and a date is chosen for South Africa’s first open elections.

24. April 1994: A Historic Election

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Mandela smiles broadly April 27, 1994, in Oshlange, black township near Durban, as he casts his historic vote.

On April 26, 1994, more than 22 million South Africans turn out to cast ballots in the country’s first multiracial parliamentary elections. Mandela votes for the first time in his life and, as leader of the ANC, is elected president of South Africa.

26. May 1994: President of South Africa

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Mandela is sworn in as president of South Africa.

Man­dela is inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president on May 10, 1994, at the age of 77, with de Klerk as his first deputy.

28. 1995: Rugby World Cup

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South African rugby team captain Francois Pienaar (right) is congratulated by Mandela.

In a gesture seen as a major step toward reconciliation, Mandela encourages black South Africans to rally around the once-hated national rugby team, the Springboks. The young republic hosts — and, against all odds, wins — the Rugby World Cup in 1995. (Clint Eastwood made a movie called Invictus about this historic event.)

30. 1996: A New Constitution

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Mandela joins the choral group at the signing of the country’s new constitution at Sharpeville stadium on Dec. 10, 1996.

Mandela signs South Africa’s new constitution into law, establishing a strong central government based on majority rule and guaranteeing the rights of minorities and the freedom of expression.

32. 1999: A President Steps Down

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Mandela (left) and his deputy Thabo Mbeki (right) greet the crowd from the stage during an African National Congress rally at the Orlando stadium in Soweto on March 28, 1999.

Mandela retires after one term as president. Thabo Mbeki takes over as president of South Africa and goes on to win the 1999 presidential election.

34. 2000–2010: Ambassador for Peace and Advocate for Change

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Mandela smiles from the stage at London’s Trafalgar Square during the South African democracy concert on April 29, 2001.

After retirement, Mandela uses his status as a respected statesman to advocate for charities and human-rights organizations and call attention to issues on the world stage. He focuses on the global AIDS crisis, calling for more openness in discussing the condition, particularly after his son dies from the virus. He establishes a number of organizations, including the influential Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Elders, an independent group of prominent world leaders committed to addressing global problems and easing human suffering.

36. 2010: Last Public Appearance

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Mandela and his third wife Graca Machel wave to the crowds.

Mandela’s last public appearance was at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa final match between Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City Stadium on July 11, 2010, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

38. 2011: A Private Citizen

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U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama (center), accompanied by her daughters, Malia (left) and Sasha, meet Mandela at his home in Houghton, South Africa.

Increasingly frail, Mandela chooses to stay out of the national spotlight and spends most of his time at his home in his childhood community of Qunu, south of Johannesburg. World leaders and old friends are sometimes invited to visit.

40. 2012: Declining Health

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Children raise their arms against a wall of “Get Well” wishes for 92-year-old Mandela, fondly known as “Madiba.”

In February 2012, Mandela is briefly hospitalized in Johannesburg to undergo surgery for a stomach ailment. He is released after a few days and returns home. In December 2012, the 94-year-old anti-apartheid hero is hospitalized for three weeks of tests and medical treatment relating to a recurrent lung infection. On both occasions, the South African government reassures its citizens that there is no cause for alarm.

42. 2013: A Legacy of Love

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On Feb. 2, 2013, Mandela, 94, sits holding his great-grandson Zen Manaway, 1, at home in Johannesburg, South Africa.

To reassure the world of her grandfather’s recovery after his three-week hospital stay in January, Mandela’s granddaughter Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway releases a family photo of the statesman at home on Feb. 2, 2013. The picture shows a smiling Mandela with his youngest great-grandson, 1-year-old Zen Manaway, in his arms.

Mandela at his home in Johannesburg, April 30, 2013.

In March, Mandela again returns to the hospital to be treated for a chronic lung infection and is released on April 6 to his home. President Jacob Zuma visits Mandela on April 30 and releases photos and videos of their meeting. Mandela appears increasingly frail in this footage, not speaking and barely smiling.

He is admitted to Pretoria Hospital on June 8 after suffering lung complications. On June 10, President Zuma meets with Mandela’s medical team and releases a statement saying that “the former president is still in a serious, but stable condition.”

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The scene outside Pretoria Hospital, June 25, 2013.

On June 26, President Zuma cancels plans to travel to Mozambique for a regional summit on June 27. In a statement, Zuma describes Mandela as being “in critical condition” and says he has been briefed by doctors who “are still doing everything they can to ensure Madiba’s well-being.”

Mandela is released from Pretoria Hospital on Sept. 1. “Madiba’s condition remains critical and is at times unstable,” Zuma’s office confirms. “Nevertheless, his team of doctors are convinced that he will receive the same level of intensive care at his Houghton home that he received in Pretoria.”

48. On Thursday, Dec. 5, in a live televised statement, President Jacob Zuma confirms that former President Nelson Mandela has died.

50. He is expected to travel to South Africa to attend Mandela’s funeral:


“At his trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela closed his statement from the dock saying, “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.”

And Nelson Mandela lived for that ideal, and he made it real. He achieved more than could be expected of any man. Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us — he belongs to the ages.

Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa — and moved all of us. His journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings — and countries — can change for the better. His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives. And the fact that he did it all with grace and good humor, and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable. As he once said, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life. My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid. I studied his words and his writings. The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears. And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him.

To Graça Machel and his family, Michelle and I extend our deepest sympathy and gratitude for sharing this extraordinary man with us. His life’s work meant long days away from those who loved him the most. And I only hope that the time spent with him these last few weeks brought peace and comfort to his family.

To the people of South Africa, we draw strength from the example of renewal, and reconciliation, and resilience that you made real. A free South Africa at peace with itself — that’s an example to the world, and that’s Madiba’s legacy to the nation he loved.

We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.

For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived — a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice. May God Bless his memory and keep him in peace.”

51. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu releases an eight-part statement about the death of his friend:


1. Condolences: To uTata Mandela’s beloved wife, Graca Machel, his former wife, Winnie Madikizela, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – and to all the Madibas – we express our deepest and most heartfelt sympathy on the loss of your paterfamilias, your patriarch. Although we collectively claim him as the father of our nation, and the pain we feel is similar to that of losing a close relative, he was your husband, your father and your grandfather. We pray that God will dry your tears and renew your strength. We thank you for sharing uTata with us. And we thank God for him. We are relieved that his suffering is over, but our relief is drowned by our grief. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

2. People cared about Nelson Mandela, loved him, because of his courage, convictions and care of others’. He set aside the bitterness of enduring 27 years in apartheid prisons – and the weight of centuries of colonial division, subjugation and repression – to personify the spirit and practice of Ubuntu. He perfectly understood that people are dependent on other people in order for individuals and society to prosper.

3. He transcended race and class in his personal actions, through his warmth and through his willingness to listen and to emphasise with others. And he restored others’ faith in Africa and Africans.

4. Was Nelson Mandela an anomaly, an exception that proves the rule?

I would say, no. Certainly, he was exceptional. But the spirit of greatness that he personified resides in all of us. Human beings are made for greatness. Nelson Mandela embodied and reflected our collective greatness. He embodied our hopes and our dreams. He symbolised our enormous potential, potential that has not always been fulfilled.

Nelson Mandela was not a lone wolf, and he did not fall from the sky. He learned about leadership and culture growing up in the care of AbaThembu Regent Jongintaba after the death of his father. He learned from the experience of developing a voice for young people in anti-apartheid politics, and from physically prosecuting the struggle. He learned from the comrades who surrounded him, an extraordinary generation of leaders. To all of this, the crucible of prison seemed to add a deep understanding of the human condition and a profound ability to empathise with others.

Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth, the Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless.

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