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It’s hard to imagine what state South Africa (and likely the rest of the world) would be in were it not for the harrowing actions of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. The 94-year-old is best known for his opposition to apartheid in his home country, which resulted in a 27-year incarceration.

Mandela’s story is inspiring because he has long been committed to helping others. Working as a lawyer in 1953, Mandela and his partner Oliver Tambo opened their own firm offering low-cost legal assistance to members of his community in need of his assistance.  By 1961 he became the leader of the armed wing the of the national liberation movement known as the African National Congress. He continued his political activism speaking out against injustices in the country, and quickly became a target of authorities.

In June of 1961, following the bombing of his law office, Mandela drafted a letter which he sent to South African newspapers warning the government to comply with the demands of the ANC or face the consequences. When his demands were not met, Mandela led a bombing campaign against the government in December of that year.

After being on the run for 17-months he was arrested in 1962. It is believed that authorities were tipped off to his whereabouts by various groups including the South African Communist Party. He was sentenced to five years in prison, for his involvement in helping to incite an uprising.  “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people,” he explained in a statement. “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.”

Mandela was eventually found guilty on sabotage charges and sentenced to life in prison. He was transported to  Robben Island where he stayed for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars. During his time in jail, Mandela became internationally popular with many around the globe calling for his release.

After a more than two-decade fight for his freedom , Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison (now known as Drakenstein Correctional Centre) in February of 1990. He later became president of the very country which imprisoned him, and was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment to equality in 1993.

In commemoration of his 94th birthday (which is today), Hip-Hop Wired is celebrating a man who is the true definition of selflessness, one who above all else had the courage to stand up for his beliefs no matter the consequences.

Click below to see some memorable photos.


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Photo: AP

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