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5 things to know about Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela leaves the InterContinental Hotel after a photoshoot with celebrity photographer Terry O'Neil on June 26, 2008 in London, England.
Nelson Mandela leaves the InterContinental Hotel after a photoshoot with celebrity photographer Terry O'Neil on June 26, 2008 in London, England. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Wednesday marks what would have been the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela -- the iconic South African president who previously spent decades in prison during the country's apartheid rule. He died Dec. 5, 2013.

Here are five things to know about the leader who inspired generations around the world.

1. He was the first black president of South Africa

Mandela became the first black president of South Africa in 1994. He was the first president elected after the end of apartheid and served this role until 1999. According to thefactfile.org, Mandela was the first South African president elected democratically, as well as the oldest president to assume office.

2. He spent nearly 27 years in jail

According to thefactfile.org, Mandela spent nearly 27 years in jail. He spent 18 of those years locked up on Robben Island. When he and other prisoners arrived on the island, the prison warden’s first words were: “This is the Island. This is where you will die.”

During his time in prison, he earned a bachelor of law degree from the University of London. He also taught fellow prisoners to adopt a nonviolent approach in order to receive better treatment in prison. The apartheid government offered Mandela freedom from prison six times during his 27 years in jail. He denied their offer each time.

3. He was a master of disguise

According to thefactfile.org, Mandela disguised himself as a fieldworker, a chauffeur and a chef to evade authorities during his fight against apartheid. He was dressed as a chauffeur when he was arrested.

Also, according to CNN, the press nicknamed him “the Black Pimpernel” because of his ways of eluding police.

4. He enjoyed several sports growing up

According to USA Today, Mandela was an avid boxer and long-distance runner starting at a young age. He especially loved boxing because it gave everyone an equal chance to participate. Mandela, in his book “Long Walk to Freedom,” said, “Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, color and wealth are irrelevant."

5. He appeared in a Spike Lee film

According to CNN, Mandela played a big role in Spike Lee’s 1992 film “Malcolm X.” At the end of the movie, he plays a teacher reciting Malcolm X’s famous speech to a room of Soweto school kids. Mandela wouldn’t say “by any means necessary,” so Lee switched to footage of Malcolm X to end the movie.