Former South African President Nelson Mandela celebrates the 20th anniversary of his release from prison on February 11, with the country a strong democracy but still plagued by inequality, poverty and unemployment. Born July 18, 1918, Mandela devoted his life to the fight against white domination. He found the ANC Youth League with Oliver Tambo and Walter Sizulu . Mandela was among the first to advocate armed resistance to apartheid, going underground in 1961 to form the ANC's armed wing “Umkhonto we Sizwe” (the Spear of the Nation). Charged with capital offences in the 1963 Rivonia Trial, his statement from the dock was his political testimony.
Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. FW de Klerk, South Africa's last white president, finally lifted the ban on the ANC and other liberation movements and Mandela was freed on Feb. 11, 1990.
A year later he was elected president of the ANC and in May 1994 was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president. He used his prestige to achieve reconciliation, setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to probe crimes by both sides in the anti-apartheid struggle. In 1999, Mandela handed over to younger leaders better equipped to manage a modern economy -- a rare voluntary departure from power cited as an example to African leaders.