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  • 6 December 2013, 6:36

Nelson Mandela Dies: Obituary Of An Icon

Nelson Mandela's long but ultimately successful struggle to liberate South Africa's oppressed black majority made him a figure of hope and inspiration for millions of people around the world.

Feisty young lawyer, determined founder of the ANC's youth movement, militant commander, prisoner, president - his role in the fight for freedom was constantly evolving throughout his life.

Alongside mentor Walter Sisulu and great friend Oliver Tambo, he brought focus to the anti-apartheid campaign where it was needed, but became an enemy of the state in the process.

In 1963, already behind bars and facing the death penalty during a sabotage trial, MrMandela gave his famous "speech from the dock".

The words - combative, but measured and full of hope - signalled the emergence of the statesman who would become an icon of the 20th century.

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He said: "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."

The apartheid government jailedMrMandela and his comrades for life in 1964 but they could not lock away the ideas he embodied and the righteousness of his cause.

To allies of South Africa's racist regime - including some in Britain - MrMandela remained for many years a "terrorist".

But for campaigners MrMandela's 27-year ordeal behind bars, often in a cramped cell on Robben Island or in solitary confinement, represented all that was wrong with apartheid.

Pressure to free "prisoner 46664" went hand-in-hand with diplomacy and sanctions as the world set its sights on ending the injustice of South Africa's racial rule.

The beaming smile and joyful raised fist as he walked free from Paarl's Victor-Verster Prison with his wife Winnie on February 11, 1990, proved beyond doubt to most South Africans that a dark chapter in the country's history was coming to a close.

As President from 1994, MrMandela sought to build his "Rainbow Nation" - feted by world leaders as he crossed the globe outlining his vision of a non-racial democracy.

His campaign to unite the nation - black and white - behind the victorious Springboks rugby team during the 1995 World Cup in South Africa made many believe that vision could really be achieved.

An often troubled and traumatic personal life - including the split from Winnie following her kidnapping and assault trial - was never allowed to eclipse the greater goal of guiding South Africa into a new era.

After retiring in 1999, MrMandela - fondly known by his tribal name "Madiba" - settled into the role of "Father of the Nation".

Passing on the presidency to Thabo Mbeki, he was happy taking a step back from the political frontline, but always there to reassure his people - a symbol of hope until the end.

Nelson Mandela was born in 1918 into the Madiba tribal clan, part of the Thembu people, in a small village in the eastern Cape of South Africa.

Born Rolihlahla Dalibhunga, he was given his English name by a teacher, Miss Mdingane, at his first school. It was customary for all children to be given English names.

His father, a counsellor to the Thembu royal family, died when MrMandela was a child, and he was placed in the care of the acting regent of the Thembu people, chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo.

He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944, first as an activist, then president of the ANC Youth League.

Mr Mandela married his first wife, Walter Sisulu's cousin Evelyn Mase, in 1944 and the couple went on to have four children during a 14-year marriage.

In 1952, he and friend Oliver Tambo opened South Africa's first black law firm, using their offices to take on many civil rights cases and mount challenges to the apartheid system.

Mr Mandela was first charged with high treason in 1956 following the adoption of the Freedom Charter in Soweto - a document with demands including multi-racial, democratic government and equal rights for blacks - but was cleared when the prosecution failed to prove he was using violence.

In 1958 he divorced Evelyn and married Winnie Madikizela, who later became prominent in the ANC and the campaign to free her husband.

He was convinced to take up arms against the government following the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre - when police shot dead 69 peaceful demonstrators who were protesting against the segregationist Pass Law, which limited the freedom of the black population.

The government followed the massacre by banning the ANC, cracking down on strikers and protesters and applying apartheid restrictions even more severely as a state of emergency was declared.

As commander-in-chief of the ANC's armed wing from 1961, Mr Mandela secretly left the country to raise money and undergo military training in Morocco, Algeria and Ethiopia.

He returned in July 1962, but was arrested at a road block after briefing the ANC leadership on his trip.

Mr Mandela stood trial for incitement and leaving the country without a passport and this time there was no chance of an acquittal as he was jailed for five years and sent to Robben Island Prison for the first time.

He was behind bars when a group of his comrades were arrested in 1963. They were charged with sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial - named after the farm raided by police.

In June 1964 - following a lengthy trial condemned by the UN Security Council - Mr Mandela and seven other activists were sentenced to life in prison.

He remained imprisoned on the infamous Robben Island for 18 years before being transferred to Pollsmoor jail on the mainland in 1982.

In the space of 12 months between 1968 and 1969, his mother died and his eldest son was killed in a car crash, but he was not allowed to attend their funerals.

In 1980, Oliver Tambo, who was in exile in London, launched an international campaign to win MrMandela's release. International resolutions and rock concerts alike were harnessed to highlight the cause.

As the world community upped the pressure against South Africa, with the US approving tough economic sanctions in 1986, secret talks began between Mr Mandela and PW Botha's government.

In 1990, President FW de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC - paving the way for Mr Mandela's release on February 11.

The ANC and ruling National Party began talks about forming a new non-racial democracy for South Africa.

Relations between MrMandela and Mr de Klerk grew tense against a backdrop of violence between ANC supporters and Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha movement.

But the two leaders continued to meet and in December 1993 they were both awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Five months later, for the first time in South Africa's history, all races voted in democratic elections and MrMandela became president - having himself voted in an election for the first time in his life.

As president, MrMandela entrusted much day-to-day government business to his deputy Thabo Mbeki.

While his time in office was hailed as a triumph in terms of building the new South Africa, there was criticism for a failure to tackle the Aids epidemic and conditions in the country's slum townships.

Mr Mandela divorced Winnie in 1996 and married 52-year-old Graca Machel two years later, on his 80th birthday.

Mr Mandela stepped down as president after the ANC's landslide victory in the national elections in the summer of 1999, in favour of Mr Mbeki.

After his retirement he continued travelling the world, meeting leaders, attending conferences and raising money for good causes.

With thousands of requests every year, his problem was fitting everything in and not exhausting himself.

In June 2004, aged 85, Mr Mandela announced he would be retiring from public life as he wanted to enjoy more time with his family.

But he did make an exception to speak out about his son Makgatho's death from Aids in 2005 - challenging the taboo that surrounds the disease in Africa.

The 2010 World Cup closing ceremony in Johannesburg was the world's last glimpse of the iconic leader in a public role.

He may have been looking frail, wrapped up against the cold and not speaking, but the famous smile as he basked in South Africa's success underlined how far his country had come.

In recent years he battled bouts of ill health, with South Africans struggling to come to terms with the reality that he could not go on forever.

Mr Mandela had hospital treatment in early 2012 for abdominal pain and then endured another 18-day stay at the end of the year suffering from gallstones and a chest infection.

A picture taken on February 2 at his Johannesburg home - showing him holding great-grandson Zen Manaway on his lap - proved to be the last time Nelson Mandela's millions of admirers saw the world's most famous smile.

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