The worldwide icon of freedom and reconciliation was born on July 18, 1918. He devoted his life to the fight against white domination, leaving Fort Hare university in the early 1940s before completing his studies. He founded the ANC Youth League with Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu Mandela was among the first to advocate armed resistance to apartheid, going underground in 1961 to form the ANC's armed wing -- Umkhonto we Sizwe (the Spear of the Nation). Charged with capital offences in the infamous 1963 Rivonia Trial, his statement from the dock was his political testimony.
''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 I hope to live for and to achieve.
But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.'' Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964.
FW de Klerk, South Africa's last white president, finally lifted the ban on the ANC and other liberation movements and Mandela was freed on February 11, 1990.
A year later he was elected president of the ANC and in May 1994 was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president. He used his charisma and prestige to achieve reconciliation, setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to probe crimes by both sides in the anti-apartheid struggle.
In 1999, Mandela handed over power to younger leaders better equipped to manage a modern economy.