The official seal was set on the fame of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first coloured President of South Africa, when he was finally released from prison. From then on, he became the symbol of liberation for all African blacks and, as leader of the anti-apartheid movement in his country, also a reference point for the "black struggle". Born on July 18, 1918 near Untata in the Transkei in Eastern Cape into the royal family of the Tembu, a tribe speaking Xhosa, he was educated at an English missionary school. He went on to attend the University of Fort Hare, but was expelled in 1948 for having led a strike with Oliver Tambo.
He returned home, but left again soon afterwards to avoid the arranged marriage imposed by his rank, even though this meant him giving up his hereditary rights. He graduated in law at the University of South Africa and, helped by Walter Sisulu and with Tambo, opened the first law firm run by blacks. In 1944, with the same companions, he founded the Africa National Congress Youth League (in 1948 to be renamed the ANC), becoming its President in 1950. In the meantime, he married Evelyn Ntoko with whom he had three children and later divorced.
He was arrested in 1955 and in 1961 was cleared of charges of treason. His trial and period in prison convinced him that armed insurrrection was the only means to achieve his objectives. This was the start of a period of constant travel aboad to gain the knowledge and military experience necessary to conclude his plans successfully. The next stop was the formation of the Armed Wing of the ANC. For a further 18 months, the Black Pimpernel, as he was christened by journalists, continued to hold the police at bay, avoiding arrest for incitement to strike and leaving the country without a passport.
Condemned to five years for sabotage and attempting to overturn the government, he was cleared in 1963 and then condemned again, this time to life imprisonment along with seven companions, in the famous Rivonia trial for sabotage and treason.
Twenty seven years, including 18 of hard time in the prison of Robben Island, did not detract from mandela's charisma or his position of leadership. In 1986, meetings began with government ministers and in 1989, he was finally able to meet President P.W. Botha and later his successor F.W. de Klerk. After being freed, in February 1990, mandela appealed to the western heads of state to continue their economis sanctions against South Africa. An agreement with the National Party led first to the suspension of the armed struggle, then to the post-apartheid negotiations and finally, in 1993, to a government made up of both National Party and Anc members. The constitutionwas modified and based on the principle of "majority rule" and the elimination of all barriers against minorities, including whites. Champions and constructors of a democratic South Africa, Mandela and De Klerk were together awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In April 1994, the ANC won the first elections open to all inhabitants of South Africa, irrespective of race. A month later, Mandela was elected President of the National Assembly, the first black President.