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(Reuters) - Former South African President Nelson Mandela celebrates the 20th anniversary of his release from prison on Thursday, with the country a strong democracy but still plagued by inequality, poverty and unemployment.
Here is a short summary of his life:
* EARLY LIFE - Born July 18, 1918, son of a counselor to the paramount chief of the Thembu people near Qunu in what is now Eastern Cape. He is widely known in South Africa by his clan name, Madiba.
-- Mandela devoted his life to the fight against white domination, leaving Fort Hare university in the early 1940s before completing his studies. He founded the ANC Youth League with Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu
-- Mandela was among the first to advocate armed resistance to apartheid, going underground in 1961 to form the ANC's armed wing -- Umkhonto we Sizwe (the Spear of the Nation).
-- Charged with capital offences in the 1963 Rivonia Trial, his statement from the dock was his political testimony.
"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 I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964.
-- FW de Klerk, South Africa's last white president, finally lifted the ban on the ANC and other liberation movements and Mandela was freed on February 11, 1990.
-- A year later he was elected president of the ANC and in May 1994 was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president. He used his prestige to achieve reconciliation, setting up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to probe crimes by both sides in the anti-apartheid struggle.
-- In 1999, Mandela handed over to younger leaders better equipped to manage a modern economy -- a rare voluntary departure from power cited as an example to African leaders.
-- Restful retirement was not on the cards as Mandela shifted his energies to battling South Africa's AIDS crisis raising millions of dollars to fight the disease.
-- His struggle against AIDS became starkly personal in early 2005 when he lost his only surviving son to the disease.
-- The country shared the pain of Mandela's humiliating divorce in 1996 from Winnie Mandela, his second wife, and watched his courtship of Graca Machel, widow of Mozambican President Samora Machel, whom he married on in July 1998.
-- In 2007 Mandela celebrated his 89th birthday by launching an international group of elder statesmen, including fellow Nobel peace laureates Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter, to tackle world problems including climate change, HIV/AIDS and poverty.
-- In June 2008 Hollywood actor Will Smith hosted a birthday celebration concert honoring Mandela's 90th birthday in July, together with 50,000 fans in London's Hyde Park.
-- The event was organized to support Mandela's HIV/AIDS charity "46664," named for the number assigned him as a onetime political prisoner.
-- The tribute coincided with disputed elections in Zimbabwe. During his trip to Britain, Mandela was urged to speak out against President Robert Mugabe, who pushed ahead with the vote despite international outcry. Mandela uttered just four words of criticism of Zimbabwe in a speech at a dinner -- "tragic failure of leadership" -- they were enough to make headline news.
-- In February 2009, a frail-looking Mandela appeared at an ANC campaign rally alongside the party's leader Jacob Zuma, boosting the party and Zuma who became the country's president in May last year.
-- Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman said he was asked by Mandela to portray him in a new Clint Eastwood-directed film "Invictus," which opened at the end of 2009 in the United States. It is the story of how Mandela brought the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship to his nation.