Nelson Mandela's Legacy, 100 Years After His Birth

July 18 is 'Nelson Mandela International Day'.

Decades after he began his struggle against South Africa's apartheid system, Nelson Mandela's actions and words have left an indelible mark not only on his home nation, but the entire world.

Now, to mark 100 years since his birth, Mandela will be honoured by an unprecedented exhibition making its world debut at the Melbourne Museum in September.

Supported by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the exhibition will be the most comprehensive collection of memorabilia ever to be shown outside of South Africa and is expected to be seen by as many as 2.7 million visitors across the world.

Here we take a look back at the key events that define Mandela's legacy, a century after his birth.

Arican National Congress & Armed Resistance Movement

After becoming involved in the movement against racial discrimination during his time studying law at the University of Witwatersrand, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944.

Founded in 1912, the ANC's main goal was originally to maintain voting rights for black and mixed raced Africans in Cape Province.

Mandela in 1953. Image: Herbert Shore, courtesy of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation

But following the introduction of apartheid -- the official South African policy of racial separation -- the ANC spearheaded the fight against the system from its establishment in 1948, sponsoring nonviolent protests, strikes, boycotts and marches.

After the massacre of unarmed black South Africans by police forces in 1960 and the subsequent banning of the ANC, Mandela co-founded and became the first leader of the new armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”),  also known as MK. The group launched a sabotage campaign against the government, and Mandela undertook guerrilla warfare and sabotage training for the cause.

"It would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and nonviolence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force,” Mandela said years later of his departure from his party's original beliefs.

It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle.
Three Decades Behind Bars

Mandela was arrested in 1962 for conspiring to overthrow the apartheid state and was sentenced to life imprisonment, narrowly escaping the death penalty.

A man washing a 'Free Mandela' slogan off the side of King's College Chapel, Cambridge. Image: Getty

During the so-called Rivonia Trial, which attracted significant international attention, Mandela denounced the injustices of apartheid and admitted the truth to some of the charges against him during an opening statement that resonated around the world:

"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 served 27 years in prison before, amid rising domestic and international pressure, then-president FW de Klerk released him in 1990.

South African Presidency

After South Africa's first multiracial parliamentary elections in history, Mandela was sworn in as the country's first black president in 1994.

Among the triumphs of his presidency, Mandela established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights and political violations committed by both supporters and opponents of apartheid, introduced several programs designed to improve the living conditions of the black population and fostered a new international image of South Africa through improved race relations.

Even before these achievements, Mandela and former South African president de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their negotiations to end apartheid.

Following his presidency, Mandela established a number of organisations to continue his fight for peace and social justice, including the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Elders.

He died on December 5, 2013 from a recurring lung infection, leaving behind a legacy of an unrelenting dedication to peace, human rights and democracy around the world.