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Nelson Mandela life and times (3) infographic
Graphic shows key events in the life of Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela life and times (3)

By Duncan Mil

December 5, 2013 - South Africa’s first black president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela has died in Johannesburg at the age of 95. The former president and freedom fighter led the struggle to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a multi-racial democracy. He had been receiving intensive medical care at home for a lung infection after spending three months in hospital earlier in the year.

In his 1994 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela reflected: "After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are a great many more hills to climb." And so it proved for former prisoner 466/64, whose reappearance from Victor Verster jail, in South Africa's Western Cape, on February 11th, 1990, after 27 years behind bars, was both a pinnacle of personal achievement and a high point in the history of the world's oppressed peoples. The euphoria that greeted the release, by the white National Party President F.W. de Klerk, of the former head of the African National Congress's militant wing is captured forever in archive footage of those first hours of freedom. Yet not far down the road lay divorce from the woman at his side that momentous day -- his second wife and fellow activist Winnie Madikizela Mandela -- continuing violence from those opposed to a post-apartheid government and the traumatic national soul-searching of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Mandela's integrity as a politician -- he and de Klerk shared the 1993 Nobel Peace prize -- combined with a keen sense of humility and good humour -- he never claimed his victory in the first free elections of 1994 for himself alone and always rejected the label of "saint" -- will guarantee his immortal memory. Even in his lifetime, writers like the white South African journalist, Donald Woods, set his country's first black president alongside earlier emancipators like Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi, while Mandela's many years of incarceration, the first 18 on Robben Island, where his status as the lowest category of inmate earned him the harshest treatment and fewest privileges, drew parallels with Burma's democracy champion, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Pop stars and politicians the world over adopted "Madiba" -- to use his clan name -- yet he was first and finally, a family man, according to his daughter, Zenani. A son of the village chief of Mvezo, in the Eastern Cape, with links to the Thembu dynasty, Mandela was born Rolihlahla -- the name can be interpreted as "troublemaker" -- on July 18, 1918. A teacher at the Wesleyan mission school where he began his formal education, called him Nelson. A law graduate, Mandela fought racial segregation -- which had its origins in the Pass Laws of the 1920s -- as a member of the ANC and, with Oliver Tambo, was the first to offer legal counsel to black people in Johannesburg. Non-violent protest turned to sabotage, including the bombing of government buildings, after the Sharpeville Massacre of March 1960, in which unarmed demonstrators were shot by police. Mandela was arrested, tried and given a life term at the end of the Rivonia trial in 1964.

He married his third wife, Graca Machel, widow of the Mozambican president, on his 80th birthday; three of his six children survive him -- the younger of his two sons died of AIDS -- along with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. One of his last public appearances was at his great-granddaughter's funeral in July 2010, the 13-year-old having been killed in a car crash on the eve of football's World Cup, which South Africa was hosting. He also outlived his great mentor, fellow ANC member Walter Sisulu. "In a sense I feel cheated by Walter," said Mandela at his friend's funeral. "If there be another life beyond this physical world I would have loved to be there first so that I would welcome him. Life has determined otherwise. I now know that when my time comes, Walter will be there to meet me."

PUBLISHED: 06/12/2013; STORY: Susan Shepherd; PICTURES: Associated Press, Keystone, Getty Images