Royal reception: In this July 9, 1996 file photo, South African President Nelson Mandela stands with Queen Elizabeth II on his arrival at Buckingham Palace in London for a state banquet in his royal visit.
Leader and philanthropist: South African President Nelson Mandela (L) shares a joke with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates after their meeting at Mandela's residence in Cape Town, in this file picture taken March 11, 1997.
Moral authority: In this Aug. 22, 1996 file photo, the Dalai Lama, left, walks hand-in-hand with South African President Nelson Mandela prior to an official reception at the presidential office in Cape Town, South Africa.
Historic: In this Feb. 11, 1990 file photo, Nelson Mandela, left, and his wife, Winnie, walk out of the Victor Verster prison in Paarl, near Cape Town, South Africa, after Mandela had spent 27 years in jail.
This picture taken on June 16, 1964 shows eight men, among them anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela, sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia trial leaving the Palace of Justice in Pretoria with their fists raised in defiance through the barred windows of the prison car.
Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, into a royal family of the Xhosa-speaking Thembu tribe in the South African village of Mvezo. While studying law as a young man, he became involved in the movement against racial discrimination, forging key relationships with black and white activists and in 1944 he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and helped establish its youth league, the ANCYL..