(Photo: DYLAN MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Nelson Mandela — one of the most iconic and enduring figures of the past century — died today at his home in Johannesburg, South Africa.
He was 95.
Mandela led the fight against South Africa's brutal and oppressive apartheid regime throughout much of his life and became a symbol of peace and perseverance after he was thrown in prison by the regime for 27 years, following conviction on charges of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.
During his time behind bars on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, Mandela was diagnosed with tuberculosis and he suffered permanent damage to his vision while working in a quarry there from the glare off the lime.
Mandela became a free man in 1990 after intense pressure from an international campaign calling for his release, in which Canada — under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney — played a leading role. At the time, the Right Honourable Joe Clark was Canada's Secretary of State for External Affairs, and he recently told George about an extraordinary act of generosity he witnessed from Mandela shortly after his release:
The next year, Mandela was elected President of the African National Congress political party and led the negotiations with South African President F.W. DeKlerk to end apartheid and hold multi-racial elections, the country's first, in 1994.
In those elections, Mandela led the ANC to victory — becoming President of the country and the symbolic father of a new democratic South Africa (he's often referred to as "the father of the nation"). He went on to serve as President from 1994 to 1999. Mandela decided not to run for a second term in office, as he was already in his early 80s by then. Instead, he became something of an elder statesman, focussing on charitable work in the fight against poverty and HIV/AIDS through his Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Mandela was married three times, and was father to six children, two of whom died before he did, as well as 17 grandchildren. In the last years of his life, Mandela was repeatedly admitted to hospital with respiratory problems.
During his life, he received hundreds of awards, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Soviet Order of Lenin. Mandela was named an Honorary Companion of the Order of Canada in 1998 and granted honorary Canadian citizenship in 2001.