Nelson Mandela was a South African anti-Apartheid activist, and human rights advocate, whose life had a profound effect on American culture. Mandela served as president of South Africa from 1994 through 1999, but his story began decades earlier. His life's work was to bring South Africa into mainstream 20th Century thinking by ending Apartheid.
Apartheid was a system of South African government that was based on racial segregation between the minority white population and black South Africans. It was a controversial form of government that was in effect from 1948 to 1994, and caused great social turmoil. The system was put into place following World War II, but racial segregation began much earlier in the country. Apartheid separated South Africans by race by placing people into four classifications: white, black, coloured, and Indian. Each group had different levels of privilege, with white South Africans being the most favored.
From 1960 to 1983, 3.5 million black South Africans were forcibly removed from their homes; in 1970, all non-white politicians were removed from government. Mandela's move to end Apartheid began in 1949 when he supported, and organized non-violent boycotts, strikes, and civil disobedience. He was arrested, and charged with treason in 1956 for his role in the social uprising, and was eventually jailed for 27 years. During this time, most of the countries in the world called for his release, and placed trade embargos against the white regime.
The country finally gave in to international pressure, and released Mandela. He became an international symbol for peaceful demonstration, and for his humanitarian work and perseverance. He was elected President of South Africa in 1994, serving for six years. Mandela died in December, 2013.