Nelson Mandela passes away at 95

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Nelson Mandela was a

master of forgiveness. South Africa's first black president spent nearly

one-third

of his life as a prisoner of apartheid, the system of white racist

rule that he described as evil, yet he sought to win over

its defeated guardians in a relatively peaceful transition of

power that inspired the world.

As head of state, the ex-boxer, lawyer and

inmate lunched with the prosecutor who argued successfully for his

incarceration,

sang the apartheid-era Afrikaans anthem at his inauguration and

traveled hundreds of miles to have tea with the widow of Hendrik

Verwoerd, the prime minister at the time he was sent to prison who

was also the architect of white rule.

It was this generosity of spirit that made Mandela, who died on Thursday at the age of 95, a global symbol of sacrifice and

reconciliation in a world often jarred by conflict and division.

Mandela's stature as a fighter against white

racist rule and seeker of peace with his enemies was on a par with that

of other

men he admired: American civil rights activist Martin Luther King

Jr. and Indian independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi, both

of whom were assassinated while actively engaged in their

callings.

Mandela's death deprived the world of one of one of the great figures of modern history and set the stage for days of mourning

and reflection about a colossus of the 20th century who projected astonishing grace, resolve and good humor.

Dressed in black, South African President Jacob Zuma made the announcement on television. He said Mandela died "peacefully"

while with his family at around 8:50 p.m. on Thursday.

"We've lost our greatest son. Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father," Zuma said. "Although we

knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss."

At times, Mandela embraced his iconic

status, appearing before a rapturous crowd in London's Wembley Stadium

soon after his

1990 release from jail. Sometimes, he sought to downplay it,

uneasy about the perils of being put on a pedestal. In an unpublished

manuscript, written while in prison, Mandela acknowledged that

leaders of the anti-apartheid movement dominated the spotlight

but said they were "only part of the story," and every activist

was "like a brick which makes up our organization."

He pondered the cost to his family of his

dedication to the fight against the racist system of government that

jailed him

for 27 years and refused him permission to attend the funeral of

his mother and of a son who was killed in a car crash. In

court, he described himself as "the loneliest man" during his

mid-1990s divorce from Winnie Mandela. As president, he could

not forge lasting solutions to poverty, unemployment and other

social ills that still plague today's South Africa, which has

struggled to live up to its rosy depiction as the "Rainbow

Nation."

He secured near-mythical status in his

country and beyond. Last year, the South African central bank released

new banknotes

showing his face, a robust, smiling image of a man who was

meticulous about his appearance and routinely exercised while in

prison. South Africa erected statues of him and named buildings

and other places after him. He shared the 1993 Nobel Peace

Prize with F. W. de Klerk, the country's last white president. He

was the subject of books, films and songs and a magnet for

celebrities.

In 2010, Mandela waved to the crowd at the

Soccer City stadium at the closing ceremony of the World Cup, whose

staging in

South Africa allowed the country, and the continent, to shine

internationally. It was the last public appearance for the former

president and prisoner, who smiled broadly and was bundled up

against the cold.

One of the most memorable of his gestures

toward racial harmony was the day in 1995 when he strode onto the field

before the

Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg, and then again after the

game, when he congratulated the home team for its victory

over a tough New Zealand team. Mandela was wearing South African

colors and the overwhelmingly white crowd of 63,000 was on

its feet, chanting "Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!"

It was typical of Mandela to march headlong into a bastion of white Afrikanerdom — in this case the temple of South African

rugby — and make its followers feel they belonged in the new South Africa.

The moment was portrayed in "Invictus," Clint Eastwood's movie telling the story of South Africa's transformation through

the prism of sport.

It was a moment half a century in the

making. In the 1950s, Mandela sought universal rights through peaceful

means but was

sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 for leading a campaign of

sabotage against the government. The speech he gave during

that trial outlined his vision and resolve.

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people," Mandela said. "I have fought against

white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society

in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to

achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

He was confined to the harsh Robben Island

prison near Cape Town for most of his time behind bars, then moved to

jails on

the mainland. It was forbidden to quote him or publish his photo,

yet he and other jailed members of his banned African National

Congress were able to smuggle out messages of guidance to the

anti-apartheid movement, and in the final stages of his confinement,

he negotiated secretly with the apartheid leaders who recognized

change was inevitable.

Thousands died, or were tortured or imprisoned in the decades-long struggle against apartheid, which deprived the black majority

of the vote, the right to choose where to live and travel, and other basic freedoms.

So when inmate No. 46664 went free after 27

years, walking hand-in-hand with his wife Winnie out of a prison on the

South

African mainland, people worldwide rejoiced. Mandela raised his

right fist in triumph, and in his autobiography, "Long Walk

to Freedom," he would write: "As I finally walked through those

gates ... I felt — even at the age of seventy-one — that my

life was beginning anew,"

Mandela's release, rivaled the fall of the Berlin Wall just a few months earlier as a symbol of humanity's yearning for freedom,

and his graying hair, raspy voice and colorful shirts made him a globally known figure.

Life, however, imposed new challenges on Mandela.

South Africa's white rulers had portrayed

him as the spearhead of a communist revolution and insisted that black

majority

rule would usher in bloody chaos. Thousands died in factional

fighting in the runup to democratic elections in 1994, and Mandela

accused the government of collusion in the bloodshed. But voting

day, when long lines of voters waited patiently to cast ballots,

passed peacefully, as did Mandela's inauguration as president

"Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another

and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world," the new president said. "Let freedom reign. The sun shall never

set on so glorious a human achievement! God bless Africa! Thank you."

Mandela also stood hand on heart, saluted by white generals as he sang along to two anthems now one: the apartheid-era Afrikaans

"Die Stem," ("The Voice") and the African "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" ("Lord Bless Africa").

Since apartheid ended, South Africa has held

four parliamentary elections and elected three presidents, always

peacefully,

setting an example on a continent where democracy is still new and

fragile. However, corruption scandals and other missteps

under the ruling African National Congress, the liberation group

once led by Mandela, have undercut some of the early promise.

President Jacob Zuma periodically observes that the South African white minority is far wealthier than the black majority,

an imbalance that he regards as a vestige of the apartheid system that bestowed most economic benefits on whites.

When Mandela came to power, black South

Africans anticipated quick fixes after being denied proper housing,

schools and health

care under apartheid. The new government, however, embraced

free-market policies to keep white-dominated big business on its

side and attract foreign investment. The policy averted the kind

of economic deterioration that occurred in Zimbabwe after

independence; South Africa, though, has one of the world's biggest

gaps between rich and poor.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born July 18,

1918, the son of a tribal chief in Transkei, a Xhosa homeland that later

became

one of the "Bantustans" set up as independent republics by the

apartheid regime to cement the separation of whites and blacks.

Mandela's royal upbringing gave him a regal bearing that became his hallmark. Many South Africans of all races would later

call him by his clan name, Madiba, as a token of affection and respect.

Growing up at a time when virtually all of

Africa was under European colonial rule, Mandela attended Methodist

schools before

being admitted to the black University of Fort Hare in 1938. He

was expelled two years later for his role in a student strike.

He moved to Johannesburg and worked as a policeman at a gold mine, boxed as an amateur heavyweight and studied law.

His first wife, nurse Evelyn Mase, bore him four children. A daughter died in infancy, a son was killed in a car crash in

1970 and another son died of AIDS in 2005. The couple divorced in 1957 and Evelyn died in 2004.

Mandela began his rise through the anti-apartheid movement in 1944, when he helped form the ANC Youth League.

He organized a campaign in 1952 to encourage

defiance of laws that segregated schools, marriage, housing and job

opportunities.

The government retaliated by barring him from attending gatherings

and leaving Johannesburg, the first of many "banning" orders

he was to endure.

After a two-day nationwide strike was crushed by police, he and a small group of ANC colleagues decided on military action

and Mandela pushed to form the movement's guerrilla wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation.

He was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to five years' hard labor for leaving the country illegally and inciting blacks to strike.

A year later, police uncovered the ANC's

underground headquarters on a farm near Johannesburg and seized

documents outlining

plans for a guerrilla campaign. At a time when African colonies

were one by one becoming independent states, Mandela and seven

co-defendants were sentenced to life in prison.

The ANC's armed wing was later involved in a series of high-profile bombings that killed civilians, and many in the white

minority viewed the imprisoned Mandela as a terrorist. The apartheid government, meanwhile, was denounced globally for its

campaign of beatings, assassinations and other violent attacks on opponents.

Even in numbing confinement, Mandela sought to flourish.

"Incidentally, you may find that the cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly

the process of your own mind and feelings," he wrote in 1975 to Winnie Mandela, a prominent activist in her own right who

was in a separate jail at that time.

Mandela turned down conditional offers of

freedom during his decades in prison. In 1989, P.W. Botha, South

Africa's hard-line

president, was replaced by de Klerk, who recognized apartheid's

end was near. Mandela continued, even in his last weeks in

prison, to advocate nationalizing banks, mines and monopoly

industries — a stance that frightened the white business community.

But talks were already underway, with Mandela being spirited out of prison to meet white government leaders. After his release,

he took charge of the ANC, and was elected president in a landslide in South Africa's first all-race election.

Perceived successes during Mandela's tenure

include the introduction of a constitution with robust protections for

individual

rights, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he

established with his fellow Nobelist, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

It allowed human rights offenders of all races to admit their

crimes publicly in return for lenient treatment. Though not

regarded as wholly successful, it proved to be a kind of national

therapy that would become a model for other countries emerging

from prolonged strife.

Despite his saintly image, Mandela was

sometimes a harsh critic. When black journalists mildly criticized his

government,

he painted them as stooges of the whites who owned the media. Some

whites with complaints were dismissed as pining for their

old privileges.

In the buildup to the Iraq War, Mandela

harshly rebuked President George W. Bush. "Why is the United States

behaving so arrogantly?"

he asked in a speech. "All that (Bush) wants is Iraqi oil." He

suggested Bush and then British Prime Minister Tony Blair were

racists, and claimed America, "which has committed unspeakable

atrocities in the world," had no moral standing.

Until Bush repealed the order in 2008, Mandela could not visit the U.S. without the secretary of state certifying that he

was not a terrorist.

To critics of his closeness to Fidel Castro and Moammar Gadhafi despite human rights violations in the countries they ruled,

Mandela explained that he wouldn't forsake supporters of the anti-apartheid struggle.

To the disappointment of many South Africans, he increasingly left the governing to Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, who won

the next presidential election and took over when Mandela's term ended in 1999.

"I must step down while there are one or two people who admire me," Mandela joked at the time. When he retired, he said he

was going to stand on a street with a sign that said: "Unemployed, no job. New wife and large family to support."

His marriage to Winnie had fallen apart

after his release and he married Graca Machel, the widowed, former first

lady of neighboring

Mozambique.

With apartheid vanquished, Mandela turned to peacemaking efforts in other parts of Africa and the world and eventually to

fighting AIDS, publicly acknowledging that his own son, Makgatho, had died of the disease.

Mandela's final years were marked by frequent hospitalizations as he struggled with respiratory problems that had bothered

him since he contracted tuberculosis in prison.

He stayed in his rural home in Qunu in

Eastern Cape province, where Hillary Clinton, then U.S. secretary of

state, visited

him in 2012, but then moved full-time to his home in Johannesburg

so he could be close to medical care in Pretoria, the capital.

His three surviving children are daughter Makaziwe by his first marriage, and daughters Zindzi and Zenani by his second.