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Through his long imprisonment, much of it spent in a cell on Robben Island, Mandela became the most widely known figure in the struggle against South African apartheid. Although the apartheid regime and those sympathetic to it considered him and the ANC to be communists and terrorists, he explained the move to embark on armed struggle as a last resort. He had been steadfastly committed to non-violence until increasing repression and violence from the state convinced him that non-violence against apartheid had achieved nothing and could not succeed. However, the reversal in policy to that of reconciliation, which Mandela pursued upon his release in 1990, facilitated a peaceful transition to fully representative democracy in South Africa.
Having received over a hundred awards over four decades, Mandela became a cultural icon of freedom and equality to many around the world. In South Africa, he was often known as Madiba, an honorary title adopted by elders of Mandela's clan. Many South Africans also refered to him reverently as mkhulu (grandfather), or as Tata ("Father"); he is often described as "the father of the nation."
In the past, as leader of the ANC during its "armed struggle," Mandela attracted condemnation and was a figure of hatred for some groups, particularly among South African whites and opponents of the ANC. The ANC's armed struggle resulted in deaths of innocent civilians, and Mandela did not deny responsibility for such casualties in his role as ANC leader. Since the end of apartheid, he was widely praised for his actions, even among white South Africans and former opponents, though not universally. Mandela wrote about his Christian conviction, and how his actions and attitudes were informed by his faith which sustained him through his years of imprisonment.