- 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.