On this date in 1918 Nelson Mandela was born. He is a South African activist and leader who helped end apartheid, the first black president of South Africa, and a winner of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is also known by his tribal name “Madiba” and name of high esteem “Tata” (Great Father). AP Photo by Simon Dawson

He and his friend Oliver Tambo became the first black lawyers in the country. They became involved with the African National Congress (ANC), a multiracial nationalist movement which sought to bring about democratic political change in South Africa.

Mandela was arrested in August 1962 and incarcerated on Robbins Island, where he lived in a tiny cell and worked at hard labor. In response to both international and domestic pressure, after 28 years in prison, the South African government lifted the ban against the ANC and released Mandela in February 1990.

The enormously respected and popular Mandela then led negotiations with the white government for an end to apartheid.

Mandela became President of South Africa at the age of 77 in 1994. His Reconstruction and Development Plan allotted large amounts of money to the creation of jobs and housing and to the development of basic health care.

In December 1996, Mandela signed into law a new South African constitution. Based on majority rule, it also guarantees the rights of minorities and freedom of expression.

Mandela retired in 1999. He became an advocate for a variety of social and human rights organizations, including the international Make Poverty History movement of which the ONE Campaign is a part. Another of Mandela’s primary commitments has been to fight against AIDS.

Today people around the world are marking the birthday of this extraordinary leader by spending 67 minutes performing public service of some kind. You can pledge to give 67 minutes of public service today here.

Read more of Mandela’s bio here.

Browse through 94 photos of his remarkable life here.