His contribution to the world was immense, becoming the first black South African President and a key figure in ending the brutal apartheid regime that had ruled the country since 1948.
After becoming a lawyer, he was repeatedly arrested for anti-government activities and, with the ANC leadership, was charged with treason several times between 1956 and 1961 although never convicted. In 1962 he was arrested, convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mandela served 27 years in prison, first on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. An international campaign lobbied for his release, which was granted in 1990 amid escalating civil strife. Becoming ANC President, Mandela published his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom and led negotiations with President F.W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections in 1994, in which he led the ANC to victory.
He was elected President and formed a Government of National Unity in an attempt to diffuse ethnic tensions. As President, he established a new constitution and initiated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. His administration also introduced measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty and expand healthcare services. He declined to run for a second term, preferring to focus on charitable work in combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
He received international acclaim for his anti-colonial and anti-apartheid stance, having received over 250 awards, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom.