Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a South African freedom fighter, politician and philanthropist who worked tirelessly in the anti-apartheid campaign. He is a hero because he committed himself to the struggle to obtain equality for everyone in South Africa, stating that he would be “willing to die” for “the ideal of a democratic and free society.”
Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 and died on Dec. 5, 2013. He was married three times and had six children and 17 grandchildren. He spent 27 years in prison at Robben Island after he was convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the South African government during his years spent fighting for racial equality. His name, Rolihlahla, means “troublemaker” in his native language, Xhosa. Nelson was a Christian name given to him by one of his teachers, as was the custom during his school years.
Mandela practiced law and initially engaged in the non-violent protest methods of Mahatma Gandhi. After 69 unarmed protesters were massacred in Sharpeville in Transvaal, Mandela resorted to militant action. While incarcerated on Robben Island, Mandela returned to his non-violent practices and used these as a mode of resistance against prison guards.
Mandela is known as a hero due to his willingness to die for his beliefs, the sacrifices he made of personal freedom and watching his children grow up during his imprisonment, as well as for his ability to forgive his oppressors. Upon his release in 1990, Mandela chose to advocate for peaceful reconciliations with then president F.W. de Klerk while South Africa was immersed in violent protests against apartheid. When he became president in 1992, Mandela continued to work toward democracy and easing racial tensions in South Africa.