Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in the small village of Mvezo, on the Mbashe River, district of Umtata in Transkei, South Africa. His Father named him Rolihlahla, which means "pulling the branch of the tree", or more colloquially "troublemaker." The name Nelson was not given until his first day at school.
In 1939 Mandela enrolled at the University of Fort Hare, an elite black institution where he made friends with his lifelong friend Oliver Tambo. At the end of his first year he became involved in a Students' Representative Council (SRC) boycott against the quality of food, for which he was temporarily suspended from the university; he left without receiving a degree. Continuing his higher education, Mandela signed up to a University of South Africa correspondence course in 1943. He bonded with liberal and communist European, Jewish, and Indian students, among them Joe Slovo, Harry Schwarz and Ruth First. In 1944 he joined the African National Congress whose activities were aimed at the collapse of apartheid. At the same year he established the African National Congress Youth League of which he became an executive and the president in 1951. In 1948, the National Party came to power and began to implement a policy of 'apartheid', or forced segregation on the basis of race. The ANC staged a campaign of passive resistance against apartheid laws. In 1956, Mandela went on trial for treason. The court case lasted five years, and ended with Mandela being acquitted. Later on he came to the conclusion that the ANC "had no alternative to armed and violent resistance". In 1961 he headed the armed wing that was called Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation"). On 5 August 1962, police captured Mandela. He was charged with inciting workers' strikes and leaving the country without permission. At the end of his four hour statement to the court Nelson Mandela stated:
"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
These words are said to sum up the guiding principles by which he worked for liberation of South Africa. During his years in prison, Nelson Mandela's reputation grew steadily. He was widely accepted as the most significant black leader in South Africa and became a potent symbol of resistance as the anti-apartheid movement gathered strength. He consistently refused to compromise his political position to obtain his…