Born on 18 July 1918 at Mvezo, near Qunu in the former Transkei, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela spent much of his childhood being groomed to become a chief.  He matriculated at Healdtown Methodist Boarding School and went on to study at Fort Hare University College where he met Oliver Tambo. Here he became involved in student politics and was expelled in 1940 as a result of participating in a student protest. On moving to Johannesburg, he was employed as a mine policeman where he met Walter Sisulu who assisted him in obtaining articles with a legal firm. Completing a BA degree by correspondence in 1941, he then began studying for a law degree which he did not complete. In December 1952, Mandela and Tambo opened the first African legal partnership in the country.

Together with Sisulu and Tambo, Mandela participated in the founding of the African National Congress Youth League in 1944, serving as National Secretary in 1948, becoming National President in 1950.

In October 1952, as President of the ANC in the Transvaal, he became one of four Deputy Presidents of the organisation.  Later that year, Mandela and 19 others were arrested and charged under the Suppression of Communism Act for their participation in the Defiance Campaign. They were sentenced to nine months imprisonment with hard labour, suspended for two years. In 1956, he was one of the 156 political activists arrested and charged with high treason for the campaign leading to the adoption of the Freedom Charter the previous year. The trial lasted four and a half years (during which time charges against many of the accused were dropped) and ended in March 1961, when Mandela and 29 others were found not guilty. In 1961 Umkhonto we Sizwe was formed with Mandela as its Commander-in-Chief.

Nelson Mandela was instrumental in a number of protest actions and campaigns, including the anti-pass law campaigns. He addressed international audiences and travelled widely to gain support for the struggle against apartheid. He returned to South Africa in July 1962, and on 5 August was captured near Howick, Natal. He was tried and sentenced to five years imprisonment for incitement to strike and for illegally leaving the country.

While Mandela was in prison, police raided the underground headquarters of the African National
Congress at Lilliesleaf Farm, Rivonia and arrested central ANC leaders. The Rivonia trial commenced in October 1963 and Mandela joined the other accused being tried for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government by revolution. His statement from the dock received worldwide publicity. On 12 June 1964, all eight of the accused, including Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Whilst incarcerated on Robben Island, Mandela (who was kept in isolation cells along with other senior leaders) continued to exercise leadership in the education of fellow prisoners and attending to political questions facing the organisation. Whilst in exile, her maintained contact with the leadership of the ANC.

In 1988, Mandela was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was transferred to a house on the grounds of the Victor Verster Prison, near Paarl. In the late eighties, he initiated contact with government representatives, which eventually led to his meeting with State President PW Botha in July 1989 at Tuynhuys. In December 1989 he met the new State President, FW de Klerk.

On 2 February 1990, the ANC, the South African Communist Party, the PAC and other anti-apartheid
organisations were unbanned and Nelson Mandela was released from jail on Sunday, 11 February 1990. Upon his release, he reassumed his leadership role in the ANC and the National Executive Committee appointed him Deputy President. He undertook a tour of the country, addressing the biggest rallies ever seen in the country’s history and helped re-establish the ANC as a legal organisation. He led the ANC in negotiations with the South African government which culminated in the adoption of the interim constitution in November 1993.

Mandela led the ANC campaign in the 1994 elections, in which the ANC won with a 62% majority. On
Monday, 9 May 1994, Mandela was elected President of the Republic of South Africa by the National
Assembly in Cape Town and sworn in the following day.  In June of that year, he undertook to donate one-third of his annual salary (R150 000) to The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund which was established to address the needs of marginalised youths.

In 1997 he retired as the President of the ANC and in July 1998, married Graca Machel, the widow of former Mozambiquan President, Samora Machel. The following year he stepped down as President of South Africa  

In the year 2000 he was appointed as mediator in the civil war in Burundi and in 2002, discovered new talents when he started his training as an artist.

In June 2004, he announced that he would be stepping down from public life, however, in 2010 – the year that South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup, he was formally presented with the Web Ellis Trophy before it embarked on a tour of the country. He late made a surprise appearance at the final of the massive world sporting event held in Soweto in June.

In 2010 his second book Conversations with Myself was published and in 2011, his third book - Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations.

On 5 December 2013, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela passed away at his home in Johannesburg, aged 95.

He was awarded numerous honours and many honorary degrees during his lifetime and was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with Executive Deputy President Frederick W de Klerk, who was State President when the award was given.