Nelson Mandela: A timeline

Major events in the life of South Africa’s first black president

Former South African president Nelson Mandela has died at the age of 95. Here are some of the major events in his life.

July 18, 1918: Born to Hendry Mphakanyiswa, a Thembu chief, and Nosekeni Qunu in the Umtata district of the Transkei, at a time when virtually all of Africa was under European colonial rule

1940: Expelled from the University of Fort Hare, a leading institution for blacks, for role in a student strike with Oliver Tambo, a future African National Congress president. Moves to Johannesburg.

1942: Joins African National Congress.


1943: Receives BA from Fort Hare after completing correspondence courses through University of South Africa.

1944: Helps form the ANC Youth League with Mr Tambo and Walter Sisulu to more aggressively push for racial equality. Marries Evelyn Mase, Mr Sisulu's cousin.

1947: Mr Mandela elected secretary of youth league.

1950: Becomes president of ANC Youth League, elected to ANC national executive committee

1952: Leads the Defiance Campaign, encouraging people to break racial separation laws. Convicted under Suppression of Communism Act, banned from attending gatherings and leaving Johannesburg. With Mr Tambo, forms the first black law partnership in the country.

1956: Charged with treason, along with 155 other South Africans of all races who had supported the Freedom Charter calling for a non-racial democracy and a socialist-based economy. They were all acquitted after a four-year trial.

1958: Marries social worker Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela after divorcing Evelyn.

1961: Helps establish ANC guerrilla wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation. He would say later the decision to take up arms came after a “sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after years of tyranny, exploitation and oppression of my people by whites”.

January 1962: Leaves the country for military training and to gather support for Umkhonto weSizwe.

July 1962: Returns to South Africa via Botswana and drives to Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia. Travels to KwaZulu-Natal to report back to ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli and other comrades.

August 5th, 1962: Arrested near Howick. Charged with illegally leaving the country and incitement to strike and sentenced to five years’ hard labor.

November 7th, 1962: Sentenced to five years for incitement and leaving the country illegally and assigned the prisoner number 19476/62.

May 1963: Sent to Robben Island.

October 1963: Charged with sabotage in Rivonia Trial.

April 20th, 1964: At a time when African colonies are becoming independent makes his speech from the dock in which he says he is “prepared to die” for a democratic South Africa.

June 11th, 1964: All except two of Rivonia Trialists convicted of sabotage.

June 12th, 1964: Mr Mandela and seven others sentenced to life imprisonment. All except Denis Goldberg are sent to Robben Island to serve their sentences. Mr Goldberg, as the only white person convicted in the trial, is held in Pretoria Central Prison. Mr Mandela is assigned the prisoner number 466/64.

1968: Mr Mandela’s mother Nosekeni dies. He is forbidden from attending her funeral.

1969: Mr Mandela’s eldest son Thembekile is killed in a car accident. Again, he is forbidden from attending his funeral.

1972: Mr Mandela, Mr Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba and Andrew Mlangeni, and later Ahmed Kathrada are transferred to Pollsmoor Prison. Mr Mandela is assigned the prisoner number 220/82.

1973: Refuses a government offer of release on condition he agrees to a kind of exile in his native Transkei.

1985: Another release offer, on condition he renounce violence. In a fiery refusal, read by his daughter Zindzi at a rally, Mr Mandela says the burden is on the government to renounce violence, legalise the ANC, scrap segregation laws and agree to political negotiations. Mr Goldberg, who has been held apart from his comrades for more than 20 years, accepts the offer and is released.

1985: Undergoes surgery on his prostate gland at the Volks Hospital in Cape Town. Visited in hospital by Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee.

May 1986: Meets an Eminent Persons Group from the Commonwealth Group of Nations.

July 1986: Wrote to the Commissioner of Prisons requesting a meeting on a matter of national importance. He requested a meeting with Kobie Coetsee. Met Mr Coetsee where he first raised the issue of talks about talks between the National Party Government and the ANC. Also asked to meet President PW Botha.

November 1987: Govan Mbeki is released from Robben Island.

August 1988: Contracts tuberculosis and is admitted to Tygerberg Hospital where he remains for six weeks.

December 1988: Continues his recuperation at Constantiaberg MediClinic.

December 9th, 1988: Is transferred to Victor Verster Prison near Paarl where he is held in the house formerly occupied by a warder. Mr Mandela is assigned the prisoner number 1335/88.

July 1989: Meets PW Botha.

October 1989: Mr Sisulu, Mr Kathrada, Elias Motsoaledi, Mr Mlangeni and Mr Mhlaba are released.

December 1989: Mr Mandela meets FW de Klerk.

February 2 1990: At the opening of Parliament President de Klerk announces the unbanning of all political organisations including the African National Congress.

February 9th, 1990: Mr Mandela meets Mr de Klerk and is informed of his release the next day. He was to be released in Johannesburg. Mr Mandela objects saying he wants to walk out of the prison at Victor Verster and asks for an extra week for ANC people on the outside to prepare. Mr de Klerk refuses the extension but agrees to release him at Victor Verster.

February 10th, 1990: Mr de Klerk announces at a press conference that Mr Mandela will be released the next day.

February 11th, 1990: Mr Mandela is released from Victor Verster Prison to cheering crowds. Addresses thousands of well-wishers gathered on the Grand Parade, from the balcony of the City Hall in Cape Town. Spends the night at Bishopscourt, the official residence of the Archbishop of Cape Town.

February 12th, 1990: Holds a press conference in the garden of Bishopscourt. Flies to Johannesburg. Stays the night in North Riding at the home of a supporter Sally Rowney.

February 13th, 1990: Flies to FNB Stadium in Soweto for a welcome home rally. Spends his first night in decades at his family home of 8115 Orlando West, Soweto.

1991: Mr Mandela is elected president of ANC. The government, ANC and 17 other political groups begin formal negotiations on a new constitution.

1993: Draft constitution adopted, opening the way to South Africa’s first all-race election in April 1994. Mr Mandela and President de Klerk receive the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in negotiating an end to apartheid.

April 1994: The ANC wins elections.

May 10th, 1994: Mr Mandela is inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president.

June 24th, 1995: South Africa defeats New Zealand in the finals of the Rugby World before fans who include Mandela, wearing the jersey of Francois Penaar, South Africa's team captain.

1996: Mr Mandela is granted a divorce from Winnie.

1998: Mr Mandela weds former Mozambican first lady Graca Machel on his 80th birthday.

April 5th, 1999: Two Libyan suspects handed over to UN representative for trial in the Netherlands in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie in Scotland after intensive diplomatic efforts by Mr Mandela.

June 16th, 1999: Mr Mandela retires after one term, a rarity among African presidents, but continues to be active in causes promoting world peace, supporting children and fighting Aids.

October 1999: Now a former president and sought-after international mediator, Mr Mandela tours Iran, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Israel.

January 30th, 2003: In a speech, Mr Mandela calls US President George W Bush arrogant and shortsighted for ignoring the UN over Iraq.

2004: He announces his retirement from public life.

January 6th, 2005: His eldest son, Makgatho, dies. Mr Mandela announces the cause is Aids-related complications, saying the only way to fight the disease’s stigma is to speak openly.

July 18th, 2007: Celebrates his 89th birthday by launching “council of elders” — Nobel peace laureates, politicians and development experts dedicated to finding new ways to foster peace and resolve global crises.

June 25th, 2008: In a speech in London, he goes further than his government in first public comments about Zimbabwe’s political crisis, referring to “the tragic failure of leadership in our neighboiring Zimbabwe”.

July 18th, 2009: His 91st birthday is declared international Mandela Day, which organisers hope will become annual day devoted to service to communities.

July 11th, 2010: Mr Mandela waves to the crowd at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg as South Africa bids farewell to the 2010 soccer World Cup. Driven in a small golf cart and seated alongside wife, Graca Machel, the smiling, warmly dressed Mr Mandela is welcomed by a thunderous mix of vuvuzelas and roars from the crowd.

January 28th 2011: Mr Mandela is released from hospital after spending two nights there for a respiratory infection.

June 21st, 2011: Mr Mandela meets at his home with US First Lady Michelle Obama, her two daughters and other Obama relatives.

February 26th, 2012: Mr Mandela is released from a hospital after overnight stay for minor diagnostic surgery to determine the cause of an abdominal complaint.

December 2012: Mr Mandela spends nearly three weeks in a hospital, where he is treated for a lung infection and has a procedure to remove gallstones.

March 9th, 2013: Mr Mandela spends a night in hospital for a medical exam.

March 28th, 2013: Mr Mandela is admitted to hospital with a lung infection.

April 6th, 2013: Mr Mandela is released from hospital after being diagnosed with pneumonia and having fluid drained from his lung area.

April 29th, 2013: State television broadcasts footage of a visit by President Jacob Zuma and other ANC leaders toMr Mandela at his Johannesburg home. Mr Zuma said at the time that Mr Mandela was in good shape, but the footage — the first public images of him in nearly a year — showed him silent and unresponsive, even when Mr Zuma tried to hold his hand.

June 8th, 2013: The government said Mr Mandela has been admitted to hospital with a recurring lung infection. Officials describe his condition as serious but stable.

December 5th, 2013: Mr Mandela dies at age 95. Mr Zuma makes the announcement at a news conference, saying “we’ve lost our greatest son”.