Rolihlahla "Nelson" Mandela was born on the 18th July 1918 in Qunu, South Africa. As the youngest son of a respected African chief, Rolihlahla was offered the opportunity to go to school. Here he was named "Nelson" by one of his teachers. Mandela eventually studied at both the University of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand and qualified in law, setting up a law practice in Johannesburg with his friend Walter Sisulu. It was the injustices he dealt with on a daily basis that began to influence him.
In 1943 Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) which appealed to the South African government for African rights and political changes. Mandela was part of a young group which brought a new sense of youthful optimism and pro-activism to the ANC.
In 1948 the government implemented apartheid. This was a legal system causing separation of people based on their racial classification, with subsequent oppression for non-whites. The government used police and armed forces to enforce apartheid and implemented increasingly stringent laws to outlaw any opposition. In response to this the ANC began a policy of passive resistance; encouraging boycotts, "stay at home" strikes, non violent civil disobedience and non co-operation with the everyday apartheid rules and regulations.
As a highly educated lawyer with natural leadership abilities, Mandela was an influential figure within the ANC. During these years, Mandela was banned, arrested and detained numerous times and was tried for Treason in 1956 but later acquitted. As the government increasingly sought to suppress all anti apartheid movements the ANC was declared an illegal organisation in 1960. As a last resort, after the failure of peaceful resistance to challenge governnment oppression, Mandela founded Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), Spear of the Nation. this was a new underground section of the ANC, which was preparing an armed struggle to use limited sabotage against the government with the aim of achieving policy change. After being arrested, using Mandela's vast legal knowledge, throughout the trial the accused stated their position as oppressed political activists, who were willing to use any means to help achieve an egalitarian South Africa. Mandela's final speech to the court stated:
"I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."On the 12th June 1964 Nelson Mandela and 8 others were sentenced to life imprisonment.