Nelson Mandela fought for human rights for many decades and even endured nearly three decades in prison for it. He died on Dec. 5, 2013, at the age of 95 at his Johannesburg, South Africa, home. He became actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement in his 20s and joined the African National Congress in 1942.
While he began with a peaceful, nonviolent campaign against the South African government, he changed tactics
In his speech made at the start of the Rivonia trial in 1964 in which he was found guilty of sabotage and sentenced to life in prison, he said:
“I admit immediately that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto we Sizwe [armed wing of the African National Congress], and that I played a prominent role in its affairs until I was arrested in August 1962.
“I, and the others who started the organisation, did so for two reasons.
“Firstly, we believed that as a result of government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalise and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war.
“Secondly, we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the government.
“But the violence which we chose to adopt was not terrorism. Four forms of violence were possible. There is sabotage, there is guerrilla warfare, there is terrorism, and there is open revolution. We chose to adopt the first method and to exhaust it before taking any other decision.”
Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994 and served until 1999. He won the Nobel Peace Prize with South African President F.W. de Klerk in 1993. In 2009, July 18 – Mandela’s birthday – was declared “Mandela Day” to promote global peace.