People around the world are still mourning the death of Nelson Mandela. The civil rights hero and former President of South Africa died last month at age 95. For years, Mandela fought to end segregation (the practice of keeping groups apart, often because of race) in his country.
“I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life,” said President Barack Obama. “I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set.”
FIGHTING FOR FAIRNESS
Mandela was a leader in the fight to end apartheid, a brutal system in South Africa that kept black people segregated from white people. In a country where most people are black, only whites could vote. Blacks couldn’t socialize with whites or even travel outside their own neighborhoods without the government’s permission.
In the 1950s, Mandela became the leader of an anti-apartheid group called the African National Congress. That made him a target of the government. In 1964, after being accused of trying to help overthrow the government, he was sentenced to life in prison.
But even from his prison cell on Robben Island , Mandela fought for justice. He repeatedly wrote to South Africa’s President F. W. de Klerk, asking to talk. With protests growing, the President agreed. For years, de Klerk met with Mandela and other black leaders in secret to discuss how to solve South Africa’s problems.
Finally, in 1990, de Klerk began taking steps toward ending apartheid. After 27 years in prison, Mandela, then 71 years old, was a free man.
In 1993, Mandela, de Klerk, and other leaders wrote a new constitution that guaranteed equal rights for all South Africans. The same year, Mandela and de Klerk won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work.
Mandela was elected President the following year, when black South Africans were allowed to vote for the first time. In his first speech as President, he said, “Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”
Mandela served as South Africa’s first black President from 1994 to 1999. After he left office, Mandela continued to speak out against injustice in his own country and abroad. To many, he will always be a symbol of peace and equality.