Nelson Mandela, born in 1918, South African activist, winner of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, and the first black president of South Africa (1994-1999). Born in Umtata, South Africa, in what is now Eastern Cape province, Mandela was the son of a Xhosa-speaking Thembu chief. He attended the University of Fort Hare in Alice where he became involved in the political struggle against the racial discrimination practiced in South Africa. He was expelled in 1940 for participating in a student demonstration. After moving to Johannesburg, he completed his course work by correspondence through the University of South Africa and received a bachelor’s degree in 1942. Mandela then studied law at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He became increasingly involved with the African National Congress (ANC), a multiracial nationalist movement which sought to bring about democratic political change in South Africa. Mandela helped establish the ANC Youth League in 1944 and became its president in 1951.
Mandela sought to calm the fears of white South Africans and of potential international investors by trying to balance plans for reconstruction and development with financial caution. His Reconstruction and Development Plan allotted large amounts of money to the creation of jobs and housing and to the development of basic health care. In December 1996 Mandela signed into law a new South African constitution. The constitution established a federal system with a strong central government based on majority rule, and it contained guarantees of the rights of minorities and of freedom of expression. Mandela, who had announced that he would not run for reelection in 1999, stepped down as party leader of the ANC in late 1997 and was succeeded by South African deputy president Thabo Mbeki. Mandela's presidency came to an end in June 1999, when the ANC won legislative elections and selected Mbeki as South Africa's next president.
During the 1950s, while the South African government passed and implemented oppressive apartheid laws, black South Africans responded by intensifying their political opposition. The ANC dramatically increased its membership under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. He took the lead in the fight against apartheid accompanied by Albert Luthuli.