Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela, b. July 18, 1918, was the first South African president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Trained as an attorney, he helped form the Youth League of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944. In 1961 he abandoned peaceful protest and became head of the ANC’s new military wing. Sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964, Mandela came to symbolize black political aspirations and was named head of the ANC after his release on Feb. 11, 1990. He and F. W. de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating South Africa’s peaceful transition to multiracial democracy. After the ANC victory in the April 1994 elections, Mandela worked to ease racial tensions, court foreign investment, and provide services to the victims of apartheid.
Mandela has announced that he will not run for reelection in 1999, and in December 1997 Thabo Mbeki succeeded him as ANC party leader.