Factbox - Nelson Mandela

  • World
  • Saturday, 25 Feb 2012

(Reuters) - Nelson Mandela was admitted to hospital on Saturday with a "long-standing abdominal complaint," intensifying fears for the health of the 93-year-old who became a world symbol of resistance to apartheid, then worked for reconciliation as South Africa's first black president.

Here is a short summary of Mandela's career:


- Born July 18, 1918, son of a counsellor to the paramount chief of the Thembu people near Qunu in what is now the Eastern Cape. He is widely known in South Africa by his clan name, Madiba.


- Mandela 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 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."

He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964.


- Mandela spent nearly two decades as a prisoner on Robben Island, a barren lump of rock that sits in shark-infested waters off the coast of Cape Town and served as the apartheid government's main jail for political opponents.

- During his incarceration, Mandela largely faded from the public imagination in South Africa, although his then-wife Winnie kept the ANC torch alight throughout the late 1960s and 1970s.

- In the 1980s, he became the focus of the international anti-apartheid movement, and the "Free Nelson Mandela" slogan started to seep back into South Africa despite heavy censorship and curbs on political movements.

- F.W. de Klerk, South Africa's last white president, finally lifted the ban on the ANC and other liberation movements on February 2, 1990, and Mandela walked free from jail nine days later, an event beamed live around the world.

- 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 prestige and status to push for reconciliation between whites and blacks, setting up a Commission led by Archbiship Desmond Tutu to probe crimes committed by both sides in the anti-apartheid struggle.

- In 1999, he handed over to younger leaders he saw as better equipped to manage a fast-growing, rapidly modernising economy - a rare example of an African leader voluntarily departing from power.


- Restful retirement was not on the cards as Mandela shifted his energies to battling South Africa's AIDS crisis, raising millions of dollars to fight the disease.

- His struggle against AIDS became starkly personal in early 2005 when he lost his only surviving son to the disease.

- South Africa shared the pain of Mandela's humiliating divorce in 1996 from Winnie Mandela, his second wife, and watched his courtship of Graca Machel, widow of Mozambican President Samora Machel, whom he married on in July 1998.


- In 2007 Mandela celebrated his 89th birthday by launching an international group of elder statesmen, including fellow Nobel peace laureates Tutu and Jimmy Carter, to tackle world problems including climate change, HIV/AIDS and poverty.

- In June 2008 Hollywood actor Will Smith hosted a birthday celebration concert honouring Mandela's 90th birthday in July, together with 50,000 fans in London's Hyde Park.

- The tribute coincided with disputed elections in Zimbabwe. During his trip to Britain, Mandela was urged to speak out against President Robert Mugabe. Mandela uttered just four words of criticism - "tragic failure of leadership." They were enough to make headline news.

- In February 2009, a frail-looking Mandela appeared at an ANC campaign rally alongside ANC leader Jacob Zuma, boosting the party and Zuma who became President in May 2009.

- Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman played Mandela in 2009 Clint Eastwood film "Invictus," which told the story of how Mandela brought the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship to his nation.

- Mandela made his last appearance at a mass event in July 2010 at the final of the soccer World Cup. He received a thunderous ovation from the 90,000 at the Soccer City stadium in Soweto.

- He was hospitalised for nearly a week in January 2011 in Johannesburg with respiratory problems.

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