Despite many years in jail, Nelson Mandela emerged to become the country's first black president, playing a leading role in the drive for peace and is revered worldwide as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality. His lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Nelson Mandela led the struggle to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a multi-racial democracy; he joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1943, first as an activist, then as the founder and president of the ANC Youth League. Eventually, after years in prison, he also served as its president. Mr Mandela qualified as a lawyer and played a pivotal role in the rebirth of a stagnant ANC. He campaigned against apartheid, one of the most powerful and effective systems of coercion ever devised by the all-white National Party that oppressed the black majority. After growing resistance to the apartheid laws, the government outlawed the ANC in 1960 and Nelson Mandela went into hiding as an underground leader. Tension with the apartheid regime grew, and soared to new heights in 1960 when 69 black people were shot dead by police in the Sharpeville massacre. It was the end of peaceful resistance and Mr Mandela, already National Vice-President of the ANC, launched a campaign to disrupt the country's economy. He was eventually arrested and charged with sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government. Conducting his own defence, Mr Mandela used the stand to convey his beliefs about democracy, freedom and equality. "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities," he said. "It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." In the winter of 1964, he was sentenced to life in prison. He remained in prison on Robben Island for 18 years before being transferred to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland in 1982. In 1980, Nelson Mandela’s partner in law, Mr Tambo, who was in exile, launched an international campaign to release Mr Mandela. The world community tightened the sanctions first imposed on South Africa in 1967 against the apartheid regime. The pressure produced results, and in 1990, President F.W. de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC, and Mr Mandela was released from prison. Released on 11 February 1990, Mandela plunged wholeheartedly into his life's work, striving to attain the goals he and others had set out almost four decades earlier. In 1991, at the first National Conference of the ANC held inside South Africa after being banned for decades, Nelson Mandela was elected President of the ANC while his lifelong friend and colleague, Oliver Tambo, became the organisation's National Chairperson. Nelson Mandela has never waivered in his devotion to democracy, equality and learning. Despite extreme provocation, he has never answered racism with racism. His life has been an inspiration, in South Africa, and throughout the world, to all who are oppressed and deprived, to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation. In a life that symbolises the triumph of the human spirit over man’s inhumanity, Nelson Mandela accepted the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of all South Africans who suffered and sacrificed so much to bring peace their land. In 1994, for the first time in South Africa's history, all races voted in democratic elections and Mr Mandela was elected president. The ANC won 252 of the 400 seats in the national assembly. On 23 July 2004, the city of Johannesburg bestowed its highest honour on Mandela by granting him the freedom of the city at a ceremony in Orlando, Soweto. Nelson Mandela handed over the Presidency in 1997. Mr Mandela divorced his wife of over thirty years, Winnie Madikizela, in 1996. Two years later, on Mandela's 80th birthday, he wed his 52-year-old companion, Graca Machel, the widow of the former president of Mozambique, in a private ceremony at his home in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since his retirement in 1999, Mandela turned his attention to international diplomacy, travelling the world, meeting leaders, attending conferences and acting as an ambassador for peace and equality. He convinced Libya to hand over two suspects for trial in the Lockerbie airplane bombing, and he played a role in the Burundi peace process. Sadly, in 2005 Mandela's son, Makgatho Mandela, 54, died of an AIDS-related illness. South Africa has about five million HIV/AIDS patients -- more than any other country. Mr Mandela has continually argued that whatever global issues demand attention, HIV and AIDS is an overriding priority to be tackled, a message he reaffirmed at the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok in July 2004. Mandela was the driving force behind a worldwide music-led campaign to raise global awareness about HIV/AIDS. Pulling in major international celebrities and corporations, the 46664 (Mandela’s former prison number) Campaign kicked off in October 2003 with a ground-breaking music launch on the Internet and phone networks around the world, followed by an all-star concert in South Africa in November 2003. Mr Mandela, though 86 and increasingly frail, continues to mount a highly public crusade against the AIDS epidemic devastating South Africa. Through the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, set up in 1995, the iconic anti-apartheid leader is on the front line, fighting the disease with AIDS education, health care and support programmes. These are supported by community-based organisations and government; providing a care model for children affected by AIDS deaths, and now reaches over 150,000 of these children.