Nelson Mandela Biography Homework Sheets

Nelson Mandela spent his life fighting apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was a brutal system of racial segregation in South Africa that kept blacks and whites apart and dehumanized people of color. The South African government imprisoned him for 27 years, but Mandela persevered. During his imprisonment, Mandela became a hero to people around the world and a symbol of the injustice of apartheid.  After his release from prison in 1990, he became the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. Mandela died on December 5, 2013, at age 95.

News Articles About the Death of Nelson Mandela

Scholastic News, Grades 1-6

This article from Scholastic News, "Nelson Mandela Dies," reflects on the icon's life and work.


Mandela’s Youth

Nelson Mandela was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918, in a rural village in the Transkei region of South Africa.  His name means “troublemaker” in the Xhosa language. A teacher at a Christian mission school later gave him the name Nelson. Mandela rose from a humble village of mud huts into a comfortable life as the adopted son of a Tembu chief.

As a young man, Mandela attended university, but was dismissed because he took part in a student protest, his first act of civil rights activism. In the 1940s, Mandela entered into the turbulent world of South African racial politics by joining in the liberation movement known as the African National Congress (A.N.C).

The Origins of Apartheid

Since the arrival of the Dutch and British colonists in the 1600 and 1700s, black South Africans – and all people of color in South Africa – had steadily been pushed out of power. Racist policies of the European-dominated governments took away their basic human rights. By 1950, Afrikaners (South African whites of Dutch descent) had control of the government and enacted the modern form of apartheid. Under this system, black South Africans could not have a voice in the government, socialize with whites, or travel outside their living area without government approval.

Mandela’s Activism and Imprisonment

Mandela was a founding member of the African National Congress's Youth League and later become second-in-command. Through this group, Mandela was able to take organized political action against apartheid. In the 1950s, he was the leader of the African National Congress. The South African government considered him an enemy.

In 1963, the government put Mandela on trial for treason, condemning him to a lifetime sentence. Throughout his imprisonment, Mandela continued his work to end apartheid by sending secret messages from his cell on Robben Island.

Leader of a New South Africa

On February 2, 1990, 27 years after Mandela was imprisoned, South Africa’s president Frederik Willem de Klerk removed the ban on the A.N.C and released Mandela. The two men had held meetings about his release while Mandela was in prison. Three years later, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Mandela used the joint award to show forgiveness, and that reconciliation was possible in the deeply politically and racially divided South Africa.

In 1994, Mandela became South Africa's first democratically elected president. He focused his presidency on building peace and unity in his country. In 1999, at the end of his term as president, Mandela chose not to seek re-election. He remained politically active, however, working to promote peace throughout Africa and to draw attention to social injustice and the spread of HIV and AIDS.

He was married three times and had six children and 17 grandchildren.

In 2009, an abridged version of Mandela's 1995 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, was published for children. In that same year, the United Nations declared his birthday as Nelson Mandela International Day.

Nelson Mandela

Biography for Kids
  • Occupation: President of South Africa and Activist
  • Born: July 18, 1918 in Mvezo, South Africa
  • Died: December 5, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Best known for: Serving 27 years in prison as a protest against apartheid

Nelson Mandela was a civil rights leader in South Africa. He fought against apartheid, a system where non-white citizens were segregated from whites and did not have equal rights. He served a good portion of his life in prison for his protests, but became a symbol for his people. Later he would become president of South Africa.

Where did Nelson Mandela grow up?

Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in Mvezo, South Africa. His birth name is Rolihlahla. He got the nickname Nelson from a teacher in school. Nelson was a member of Thimbu royalty and his father was chief of the city of Mvezo. He attended school and later college at the College of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand. At Witwatersrand, Mandela got his law degree and would meet some of his fellow activists against apartheid.

What did Nelson Mandela do?

Nelson Mandela became a leader in the African National Congress (ANC). At first he pushed hard for the congress and the protesters to follow Mohandas Gandhi's non-violence approach. At one point he started to doubt that this approach would work and started up an armed branch of the ANC. He planned to bomb certain buildings, but only the buildings. He wanted to make sure that no one would be hurt. He was classified as a terrorist by the South African government and sent to prison.

Mandela would spend the next 27 years in prison. His prison sentence brought international visibility to the anti-apartheid movement. He was finally released through international pressure in 1990.

Once released from prison, Nelson continued his campaign to end apartheid. His hard work and life long effort paid off when all races were allowed to vote in the 1994 election. Nelson Mandela won the election and became president of South Africa. There were several times during the process where violence threatened to break out. Nelson was a strong force in keeping the calm and preventing a major civil war.

How long was Nelson Mandela in prison?

He spent 27 years in prison. He refused to bend on his principals in order to be released and stated that he would die for his ideals. He wanted all people of all races to have equal rights in South Africa.

Fun facts about Nelson Mandela
  • Nelson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
  • July 18th is Nelson Mandela day. People are asked to devote 67 minutes to helping others. The 67 minutes represents the 67 years Mandela spent serving his country.
  • Invictus was a 2009 movie about Nelson Mandela and the South African rugby team.
  • He had six children and twenty grandchildren.

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Nelson Mandela
from White House Photograph Office

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