Mandela had been admitted to the hospital with a serious lung infection early this past June.
Mandela emerged from prison after 27 years to lead his country out of decades of apartheid. His peaceful message not only inspired South Africans, but people all across the world.
Countless celebrities, even president Barack Obama released statements commemorating the fallen freedom fighter.
“We’ve lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us – he belongs to the ages,” Obama said.
As a young man, Mandela started boxing in 1936 at Fort Hare University. As a boxer he did not enjoy the violence of the sport, but he did influence one of the greatest boxers of all time, Muhammad Ali.
“I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it. I was intrigued by how one moved one’s body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself over a match,” Mandela said.
But this achievement would prove to pale in comparison to everything else he did in his lifetime.
Mandela’s political influence started as early as 1942 when he joined the African National Congress (ANC). This South African political party and black nationalist organization’s main goal was to improve voting rights for people of mixed race and black Africans in the Cape Province and the need to eliminate apartheid.
The ANC was banned for three decades while Mandela was imprisoned by the white South African government. Upon Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 the ban was lifted.
In 1962, Mandela was arrested and convicted for conspiracy to overthrow the state and sentenced to life in prison. Mandela served 27 years of this sentence before being released. Rather than being bitter for his imprisonment, Mandela walked out of prison still as upright and proud (as he would say) as the day he walked into prison.
Mandela never stopped working to end the injustices of the apartheid in South Africa. After his imprisonment, he earned the joint Nobel Peace Prize with Frederik Willem de Klerk in 1993.
“For their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa”
One year later Mandela was elected president of South Africa in 1994. Although he only served one term in office, Mandela was the first non-white head of state in South African history. His presidency introduced a multiracial democracy and initially avoided a civil war.
“We were expected by the world to self-destruct in the bloodiest civil war along racial grounds. Not only did we avert such racial conflagration, we created amongst ourselves one of the most exemplary and progressive nonracial and nonsexist democratic orders in the contemporary world,” Mandela said during a 2004 celebration commemorating the decade of democracy.
A year later, South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup where Mandela encouraged black South Africans to support the South African national rugby team, Springboks. When the Springboks won, a photograph was taken with Mandela standing behind team captain, Francois Pienaar while he was holding the world cup. This inspirational picture has long since been seen as a major step in the reconciliation of black and white South Africans.
As president, Mandela also intervened in the trial of the two accused bombers on the Pan Am Flight 103 in 1997. Mandela proposed to President H.W. Bush that the two Libyans be tried in a third country to which Bush agreed because according to Mandela,
“No one nation should be complainant, prosecutor, and judge.”
During his presidency little was done to stem the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa which is often referred to as ‘the curse of Africa’ but when Mandela’s son died from AIDS, Mandela attended thousands of concerts supporting HIV/AIDS victims and research.
In 2004, Mandela announced his retirement from the public life. But South Africa was awarded the 2010 football World Cup and in July, Mandela waved to fans at the final tournament in Johannesburg’s Soccer City as his last public appearance.
Mandela was laid to rest in his childhood village of Qunu where he was given a traditional African burial and a 21-gun salute and his family was given the South African flag that draped his casket.
“I would like to be remembered not as anyone unique or special, but as part of a great team in this country that has struggled for many years, for decades and even centuries,” Mandela said. “The greatest glory of living lies not in ever falling, but in rising every time you fall.”