Timeline: Nelson Mandela

Updated April 8, 2022 | Infoplease Staff
Nelson Mandela

Here are some key moments in the life of Nelson Mandela.

by Jennie Wood

1918 1952 1968 1980 1994 2001 2013
July 18
Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela is born into the Mabida clan. His father is Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa and his mother is Nosekeni Fanny. Mandela's tribal name is Rolihalahm which means troublemaker. He's given an English name, Nelson, later on by a teacher.
Mandela's father loses his land and money. The order comes from a white magistrate.
Mandela's father dies. Jongintaba Dalindyebo, chief of the Thembu clan, becomes his guardian. Mandela's education is a priority of Jongintaba Dalindyebo.
Mandela moves to Healdtown and attends the Wesleyan college in Fort Beaufort, Eastern Cape.
He works toward a B.A. at Fort Hare University, in Alice, Eastern Cape. While at Fort Hare, he meets Oliver Tambo, his lifelong friend.
Mandela is asked to leave Fort Hare after he participates in the Students' Representative Council boycott against university policies.
To avoid an arranged marriage, he moves to Johannesburg. In Johannesburg, he witnesses apartheid which forbids the black population to own land, travel, or vote.
He completes his B.A. at the University of South Africa through a correspondence course.
Mandela joins the African National Congress (ANC).
With Oliver Tambo and Walter Sislu, Mandela forms a Youth League branch of the ANC.
He marries Evelyn Ntoko Mase, his first wife. The marriage lasts until 1957 and they have three children.
Apartheid spreads across the country when the South African government, led by the National Party, increases the limits the freedoms of black Africans.
He plays a major role in the ANC's Defiance Campaign.
Mandela opens South Africa's first black legal firm. The firm provides low-cost or in some cases even free legal services to blacks. Oliver Tambo is his partner in founding and opening the firm.
The Congress of the People asks for equal rights by introducing and adopting the Freedom Charter.
Dec. 5
Along with 155 other activists, Mandela is charged with high treason. He is accused of attempting to overthrow the South African government. Known as the Treason Trial, the trial goes from 1956 through 1961. Everyone charged is acquitted.
He separates from his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, after thirteen years.
Mandela marries Nomzamo "Winnie" Madikizela. They have two children. They remain married until they separate in 1992. They divorce in 1996.
New laws increasing racial segregation are passed by Parliament. The new laws include creating separate lands for black groups throughout the country.
The ANC loses military and financial support as its members leave to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) with Robert Sobukwe and Potlako Leballo.
Police kill 69 protestors who are participating in a peaceful demonstration in what becomes known as the Sharpeville Massacre. The ANC is banned after the incident.
Mandela goes into hiding. While in hiding, he forms an underground military group.
During the All-In African Conference, Mandela is named the leader of an Umkhontoat guerrilla movement and issues a call to arms.
Aug. 5
After being in hiding for 17 months, Mandela is arrested. He is taken to the Johannesburg Fort.
Oct. 25
He is sentenced to five years in prison, but escapes and goes on the run.
June 12
Mandela is captured. He is accused and convicted of treason and sabotage. At the age of 46, he is sentenced to life in prison. He is sent to Robben Island where he will be held for 18 years.
Rhodesia gains its independence. Whites are the only group represented in the new government.
Mandela's mother, Nosekeni Fanny, dies. His oldest son is killed in a car accident. He is not allowed to attend either one of the funerals.
The United Nations expel Rhodesia over its apartheid policy.
More than 600 students are killed in protests at Sharpeville and Soweto.
The leader of the Soweto and Sharpeville protests, Steve Biko, is killed while under arrest.
Zimbabwe gains its independence.
While in exile, Oliver Tambo begins an international campaign for the release of Mandela.
The government rules that farmers can arm themselves in protection against black dissidents.
The government releases a report which states that black dissidents have committed 120 murders, 47 rapes and 284 robberies since 1983.
South Africa sanctions increase, costing the country millions of dollars.
Amnesty is granted for all dissidents.
Feb. 11
After 27 years, Nelson Mandela is released from prison.
The ban on the ANC is lifted by President F.W. de Klerk. The ANC beings talks with the white National Party on a multi-racial democracy for South Africa.
Mandela is named president of the African National Congress (ANC).
South African athletes are allowed to compete in the Olympic Games after the International Olympics Committee lifts the 21 year ban.
Mandela separates from his wife Winnie after she is convicted of being an accessory to assault and kidnapping. They divorce four years later.
Mandela, along with President de Klerk, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
April 26
Black South Africans are allowed to vote for the first time in elections. Mandela runs for president. In the national assembly, the ANC wins 252 of the 400 seats.
Mandela is inaugurated as South Africa's first black president. He names de Klerk deputy president and forms the racially mixed Government of National Unity.
South Africa hosts and wins the Rugby World Cup. In what is seen as a huge moment in the reconciliation between black and white South Africans, Mandela, wearing a Springbok shirt, presents the trophy to Afrikaner player and Captain Francois Pienaar.
On his 80th birthday, he marries Graca Machel. Machel is the widow of Samora Machel, the former president of Mozambique.
Mandela turns the presidency over to Thabo Mbeki, the ANC's 1997 presidential nominee. He then travels all over the world.
He becomes mediator in Burundi's civil war.
Mandela is diagnosed with prostate cancer and seeks treatment, including radiation.
Canada makes him an honorary citizen.
He comes out publicly against the foreign policies of George W. Bush's administration.
He publicly supports the 46664 AIDS campaign, a fundraising initiative named for his prison number.
Mandela announces his retirement from public life. He is 85.
He travels to Bangkok to speak at the International AIDS Conference.
July 23
He is given the freedom of the city by Johannesburg, the city's highest honor.
Jan. 6
Mandela's son, Makgatho, dies of AIDS.
After being hospitalized a few times in recent years, Mandela is admitted to the hospital in serious condition due to a lung infection.
Dec. 5
Mandela dies at age 95.



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