He was born in 1918 into the Xhosa-speaking Thembu people in a small village in the eastern Cape of South Africa. In South Africa, he is often called by his clan name - "Madiba".
Born Rolihlahla Dalibhunga, he was given his English name, Nelson, by a teacher at his school This marked the end of peaceful resistance and Mr Mandela, already national vice-president of the ANC, launched a campaign of economic sabotage.
He was eventually arrested and charged with sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government.
Speaking from the dock in the Rivonia court room, Mr Mandela used the stand to convey his beliefs about democracy, freedom and equality.
"I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities," he said.
"It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
In the winter of 1964 he was sentenced to life in prison.
In the space of 12 months between 1968 and 1969, Mr Mandela's mother died and his eldest son was killed in a car crash but he was not allowed to attend the funerals.
Man holding newspaper on the day Nelson Mandela was set free Huge crowds greeted Nelson Mandela's release
He remained in prison on Robben Island for 18 years before being transferred to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland in 1982.
As Mr Mandela and other ANC leaders languished in prison or lived in exile, the youths of South Africa's black townships did their best to fight white minority rule.
Hundreds were killed and thousands were injured before the schoolchildren's uprising was crushed.
In 1980, the ANC led by the exiled Mr Tambo, launched an international campaign against apartheid but ingeniously decided to focus it on one cause and one person - the demand to release Mr Mandela.
This culminated in the 1988 concert at Wembley stadium in London when some 72,000 people - and...
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