Mandela was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918, near Qunu, South Africa. As a child, he attended a Methodist mission school where he learned English and Afrikaans. In his early teens, he went to live with the Thembu royal family at Mvezo, where he learned about traditional customs and governance.
Mandela became involved in politics when he joined the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League in 1944. The ANC had been founded as a social movement to fight discrimination against blacks by white South Africans but had become increasingly involved in political activity by this time.
In 1952 Mandela was expelled from ANC for organizing a strike against an apartheid law that required all black workers to carry passbooks when traveling between townships and cities. The passbooks were used by police to enforce apartheid laws and keep track of blacks’ movements throughout the country.
He was arrested for treason while fighting against apartheid laws that were being enforced at that time. In 1964, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment at Robben Island Prison where he served 27 years of his sentence before being released in 1990 by then-President F. W. de Klerk (who would later become president himself).
In 1994, Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa after winning 95 percent of votes cast by South Africans who had turned out to vote in elections held that year (in which more than 95 percent of eligible voters participated). He served one term as president until 1999.