"I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself. I dream of the realization of unity of Africa whereby its leaders, some of whom are highly competent and experienced, can unite in their efforts to improve and to solve the problems of Africa." -- in a 2000 interview with National Geographic
Mr Mandela - diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001 - was also involved in peace negotiations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and other countries in Africa and elsewhere.
Since stepping down as president in 1999, Mr Mandela has become South Africa's highest-profile ambassador, campaigning against HIV/Aids and helping to secure his country's right to host the 2010 football World Cup.
On 2 February 1990, South African President F.W. de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC and other anti-apartheid organisations. Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison on 11 February 1990.
He and President de Klerk - who did much to dismantle the institutions of apartheid - shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Released in 1990, he participated in the eradication of apartheid and in 1994 became the first black president of South Africa, forming a multiethnic government to oversee the country’s transition.
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 of his 27 years in prison. As a black political prisoner, he received the lowest level of treatment. However, he was able to earn a Bachelor of Law degree through a University of London correspondence program while incarcerated. A 1981 memoir by South African intelligence agent Gordon Winter described a plot by the South African government to arrange for Mandela's escape so as to shoot him during the recapture.
He orchestrated a three-day national workers strike in 1961 for which he was arrested in 1962. He was sentenced to five years in prison for the strike, and then brought to trial again in 1963. This time, he and 10 other ANC leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment for political offenses, including sabotage.
After the banning of the ANC in 1960, Nelson Mandela argued for the setting up of a military wing within the ANC. In June 1961, the ANC executive considered his proposal on the use of violent tactics and agreed that those members who wished to involve themselves in Mandela's campaign would not be stopped from doing so by the ANC. This led to the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe.
He joined the African National Congress in 1944 and was engaged in resistance against the ruling National Party's apartheid policies after 1948. He went on trial for treason in 1956-1961 and was acquitted in 1961.
Nelson Mandela began his studies for a Bachelor of Arts Degree at the University College of Fort Hare but did not complete the degree there as he was expelled for joining in a student protest. He completed his BA through the University of South Africa and went back to Fort Hare for his graduation in 1943.
Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Madiba clan in Mvezo, Transkei, on July 18, 1918, to Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, principal counsellor to the Acting King of the Thembu people, Jongintaba Dalindyebo.