The Making of Mandela


Editor's note: This story is the first of a series of profiles on peacebuilders throughout history.

Nelson was born "Rolihlahla" Mandela, which means "troublemaker" in Xhosa. His parents were illiterate, and he herded cattle. When he was 12 his father died, leaving him feeling "cut adrift", but Mandela inherited his father's "proud rebelliousness" and he grew up listening to stories of ancestors’ valor during wars of resistance.

He studied law, became an activist for equal rights and fought against the apartheid government in South Africa. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and his cell on the infamous Robben Island was only 7ft by 8ft.

Twenty-seven years later he was released, but rather than seek revenge, he chose reconciliation. He negotiated an end to apartheid and organized a multiracial election, going on to become South Africa's first black president.

He was called the "Father of the Nation", and was renowned for his mischievous sense of humor, as well as his stubbornness and loyalty. Throughout his presidency he emphasized peacebuilding, even using the 1995 Rugby World Cup to mend divisions.

Springbok Captain François Pienaar, famously said of the opening match that "...when the final whistle blew this country changed forever”.

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." - Nelson Mandela

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