(born 18 July 1918) is a
former President of South Africa, the first to be elected in fully
representative democratic elections. Before his presidency, Mandela was an
anti-apartheid activist and leader of the African National Congress and its
armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe. He spent 27 years in prison, much of it in a cell
on Robben Island, on convictions for crimes that included sabotage committed
while he spearheaded the struggle against apartheid.
Among opponents of apartheid in
South Africa and internationally, he became a symbol of freedom and equality,
while the apartheid government and nations sympathetic to it condemned him and
the ANC as communists and terrorists.
Following his release from prison
in 1990, his switch to a policy of reconciliation and negotiation helped lead
the transition to multi-racial democracy in South Africa. Since the end of
apartheid, he has been widely praised, even by former opponents.
Mandela has received more than
one hundred awards over four decades, most notably the Nobel Peace Prize in
1993. He is currently a celebrated elder statesman who continues to voice his
opinion on topical issues.