Under South Africa's white-minority apartheid regime, Mandela spent 27 years in prison, where he contracted tuberculosis, before being released in 1990. He later became the nation's first democratically elected president in 1994 under the banner of the African National Congress. He served one five-year term before retiring.
The Nobel laureate last made a public appearance on a major stage when South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.
Although South Africa today struggles with poverty and inequality, Mandela is widely credited with helping to avert race-driven chaos as South Africa emerged from apartheid.