Timeline of Nelson Mandela's life

History of South Africa's iconic first black president, who successfully fought against apartheid despite long jail term

Mandela died at 95, having spent more than a quarter of his life in prison.


The South African Native National Congress (SANNC), later to become the African National Congress (ANC), is formed in Bloemfontein on Jan. 8.


Rolihlahla Mandela is born on July 18 in the village of Mvezo in the province of Transkei, South Africa. He acquires the Christian name Nelson from a teacher in primary school. 


Nelson Mandela joins the African National Congress. With Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Ashley Peter Mda, he forms the ANC Youth League.


Mandela marries his first wife, Evelyn Mase. They divorce in 1958 after having four children.


Apartheid, as an official government segregation policy, is introduced by the National Party after it comes to power.


Mandela opens a law practice with Oliver Tambo.


Along with most of the ANC leaders, Mandela is arrested for treason. They are found not guilty five years later.

The South African leader married three times
Right, Getty Images


Mandela marries Winnie Madikizela.


The Sharpeville Massacre takes place on March 21. Sixty-nine people are killed when South African police open fire on demonstrators in the township. 


South Africa declares a state of emergency prior to banning the ANC on April 8.


The military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), is cofounded by Mandela in response to the Sharpeville Massacre. 


Mandela is arrested and sentenced to five years' imprisonment with hard labor.


Along with other leaders of the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe, Mandela stands trial, charged with trying to overthrow the government. The young leader makes a statement from the dock that would become famous. The proceeding becomes known as the Rivonia Trial after the Johannesburg suburb where several of the defendants were arrested. 


Mandela and seven others are sentenced to life imprisonment on June 12. He will spend 27 years behind bars. He is held at Robben Island Prison from 1964 to 1982, Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland from 1982 to 1988 and Victor Vester Prison in Paarl until his release in 1990.


The Soweto uprising begins on June 16, as police fire on thousands of young black South Africans protesting a law that would make Afrikaans the main teaching language in schools. Although the government says 95 people are killed, more than 500 likely die. The event helps propel the anti-apartheid struggle to the world stage. 


Mandela rejects, through his daughter Zindzi, South African President P.W. Botha's offer to release him if he renounces violence. 


The Free Nelson Mandela Concert at Wembley Stadium in London is attended by 72,000 people. That same year, he is diagnosed with tuberculosis.


South African President F.W. de Klerk announces sweeping reforms at the opening session of parliament on Feb. 2. Changes include lifting the ban on the ANC and the unconditional release of Mandela.

Robben Island Museum


Mandela is released from prison on Feb. 11.


The first national conference of the ANC is held inside South Africa since it was banned 31 years earlier. Mandela is elected president of the party.


De Klerk and Mandela win a shared Nobel Peace Prize. 


South Africa holds its first free general election on April 27. Mandela votes for the first time in his life, and is elected president. The ANC picks up 62 percent of the vote, and wins seven of the country's nine provinces. The country's new leader is inaugurated on May 10. 


His autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom," is published. 


Mandela divorces his wife Winnie, having separated from her on suspicion of adultery. Two years later he marries his third wife, Graca Machel, the widow of the former president of Mozambique.


Steps down after one term as president and starts the Nelson Mandela Foundation.


Mandela is diagnosed with prostate cancer.


Retires from public life, saying, "Don't call me, I'll call you."


Mandela's son Makgatho dies of AIDS. 


Makes his last public appearance at the soccer World Cup in South Africa. 


Mandela spends his 95th birthday in the hospital, and dies on Dec. 5 at home with his family. His death is announced to the world by President Jacob Zuma. 

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