Nelson Mandela’s role in the fight against apartheid in South Africa

Great Leaders

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela’s unwavering commitment to justice, equality, and non-racialism made him an iconic figure in the global fight against oppression. His leadership, resilience, and ability to forgive his oppressors ensured a relatively peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa.

READ MORE: Life and Major Accomplishments of Nelson Mandela

In the article below World History Edu provides a summary of his contribution:

Early Resistance

As a young lawyer in the 1940s, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) and became an active member of its leadership. He was involved in various nonviolent resistance campaigns against apartheid policies.

Formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe

In 1961, after the Sharpeville Massacre and facing increasing government repression, Mandela co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation or MK), the armed wing of the ANC. Although MK engaged in sabotage against government infrastructure, Mandela consistently advocated for strategies that would avoid human casualties.

His close to three-decade imprisonment

In 1962, Madiba, as he was known in his Thembu clan, was arrested and later sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in planning sabotage against the apartheid regime. He spent 27 years in prison, 18 of which were on Robben Island.

Symbol of Resistance

While incarcerated, Mandela became a global symbol of resistance to oppression, garnering international support and amplifying global calls for his release and the end of apartheid.

Nelson Mandela timeline

Mandela served 27 years in prison, split between Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison, and Victor Verster Prison. During his imprisonment, Mandela became a global symbol of resistance to apartheid and an enduring symbol of resilience.

Release and Negotiations

Released in 1990, Mandela immediately engaged in negotiations with then-President F.W. de Klerk to dismantle the apartheid system. Their joint efforts led to the unbanning of liberation movements, the release of political prisoners, and the start of multi-party negotiations.

Peaceful Transition

Through the early 1990s, Mandela was instrumental in preventing outbreaks of civil unrest and in steering the country toward its first multi-racial democratic elections in 1994.


Mandela’s election as South Africa’s first black president in 1994 cemented his legacy as a central figure in the fight against apartheid. His leadership emphasized reconciliation between the country’s racial groups.

Post-Presidency Influence

After his presidential term, Mandela, who is often regarded as the “Father of the Nation”, continued to advocate for peace, reconciliation, and social justice both in South Africa and globally.

Major Facts about Nelson Mandela’s Life and Accomplishments

Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in the 20th century, celebrated for his role in fighting apartheid and leading South Africa into a new era.

Here are some key facts about the South African leader:

  • Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, in the village of Mvezo in Umtata, part of South Africa’s Cape Province.
  • He was born into the Thembu royal family and was given the forename Rolihlahla, which colloquially means “pulling the branch of a tree” or more commonly “troublemaker.”
  • Mandela began his studies for a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University College of Fort Hare but did not complete the degree there. He later studied law at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, becoming one of South Africa’s first black lawyers.
  • Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944 and was engaged in resistance against the ruling National Party’s apartheid policies after 1948.
  • In 1962, he was arrested and convicted of sabotage and other charges, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.
  • In 1993, Mandela and then-South African President F.W. de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in peacefully terminating the apartheid regime and laying the foundations for a democratic South Africa.
  • Nelson Mandela passed away on December 5, 2013, at the age of 95.
  • The South African leader’s legacy is immortalized in various forms, including books, films, monuments, and events around the world. His birthday, July 18, is celebrated as Nelson Mandela International Day, recognizing his contribution to global freedom.
  • Mandela’s enduring spirit and dedication to the cause of justice and equality have left an indelible mark on the world. He remains an inspiration to millions worldwide.

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