JOHANNESBURG – Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who became South Africa's first black president, was regarded as one of the great figures of the past century for his generosity of spirit, sacrifices in the name of equality and his efforts to reconcile the races in South Africa amid the ever-present specter of conflict.
Here are a few momentous occasions in the life of Mandela, told partly through his own words:
April 20, 1964: Charged with sabotage, Mandela delivered a statement during his trial in Pretoria that revealed the depth of his resolve in the fight against apartheid and his willingness to lay down his life in an effort to end white racist rule.
"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people," Mandela said. "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."
Two months later, he and seven other defendants were sentenced to life in prison.
Feb. 11, 1990: Mandela walked out of South Africa's Victor Verster prison near Cape Town after 27 years in captivity, holding hands with his wife, Winnie. He held up his fist and smiled broadly. Mandela's release after so long was almost inconceivable for deliriously happy supporters who erupted in cheers as hundreds of journalists pressed forward. The world watched the electrifying occasion live on television. Because of Mandela's decades-long confinement, few people knew what he looked like or had seen a recent photograph. Mandela said he was astounded by the reception.
"When I was among the crowd I raised my right fist, and there was a roar. I had not been able to do that for twenty-seven years and it gave me a surge of strength and joy," Mandela wrote.
He also recalled: "As I finally walked through those gates to enter a car on the other side, I felt — even at the age of seventy-one — that my life was beginning anew."
May 10, 1994: Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa after democratic elections, taking the oath of office at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the South African capital. Leaders and other dignitaries from around the world attended the historic occasion, which offered many South Africans another chance to celebrate in the streets.
At the close of his inauguration speech, Mandela said:
"Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world," he said. "Let freedom reign. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement! God bless Africa! Thank you."
June 24, 1995: Mandela strode onto the field at the Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg, wearing South African colors and bringing the overwhelmingly white crowd of more than 60,000 to its feet. They chanted "Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!" as the president congratulated the victorious home team in a moment that symbolized racial reconciliation.
Mandela's decision to wear the Springbok emblem, the symbol once hated by blacks, conveyed the message that rugby, for so long shunned by the black population, was now for all South Africans.
The moment was portrayed in "Invictus," a Hollywood movie directed by Clint Eastwood. The film tells the story of South Africa's transformation under Mandela's leadership through the prism of sport.
July 11, 2010: A smiling Mandela waved to the crowd at the Soccer City stadium at the closing ceremony of the World Cup, whose staging in South Africa allowed the country, and the continent, to shine on one of the world's biggest stages. Mandela appeared frail as he was driven in a golf cart alongside his wife, Graca Machel.
Mandela had kept a low profile during the month-long tournament, deciding against attending the opener June 11 after the death of his great-grand daughter in a traffic accident following a World Cup concert.
The former president did not address the crowd on that emotional day in the stadium. It was his last public appearance.