“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. 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 will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” That was Nelson Mandela addressing a court in Pretoria in 1964. At that moment in history (when his imprisonment was certain and his death seemed likely) no one could have predicted how his life and country would change over the coming decades. He was sentenced to life in prison. But the arc of history bent towards him, and he managed to bend the arc of history; first with a raised fist, and later with an open hand.

+ “To have lived one’s life at the same time, and in the same natal country, as Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a guidance and a privilege we South Africans shared. I also knew the privilege of becoming one of his friends.” Nadine Gordimer: Mandela, My Countryman.

+ From Mandela’s biographer Richard Stengel: “In many ways, the image of Nelson Mandela has become a kind of fairy tale: he is the last noble man, a figure of heroic achievement. Indeed, his life has followed the narrative of the archetypal hero, of great suffering followed by redemption. But as he said to me and to many others over the years, ‘I am not a saint.’ And he wasn’t.”

+ NPR: The day Nelson Madela walked out of prison.

+ Key moments of his life in photos … and in videos.