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The Final Fight of Nelson Mandela's Life

After the death of his son, Mandela began a campaign against AIDS and HIV.

ByABC News
December 6, 2013, 12:39 PM

Dec. 6, 2013— -- Six years after retiring from a political career, Nelson Mandela called a news conference in January 2005 at his home in Johannesburg, South Africa, to make a stunning announcement.

"My son has died of AIDS," Mandela said at the conference.

His son Makagtho Mandela was 54 years old. Two other family members of Mandela's later died of complications from the disease. His public admission is considered a pivotal moment in how South Africa and much of the continent would come to view the AIDS epidemic.

"We must not hide the cause of death of our respected family because that is the only way in which we can make people understand that even HIV is an ordinary illness," Mandela told a news conference.

Although an estimated 5 million South Africans were infected with HIV at the time and 2 million had already died, AIDS was a shameful and taboo topic. That stigma had thwarted attempts to prevent and treat the disease.

"For him to actually stand up and admit that there was something in his family, something in his own son, was important because it normalized HIV," Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, director of the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs, told ABC News' "20/20."

Infographic: The Life of Nelson Mandela

As president of South Africa, Mandela remained mostly silent on the matter of AIDS. But in the last decade of his life and in midst of the private loss of his son, Mandela began his final campaign: a fight against AIDS in South Africa.

Mandela created the 46664 charity, named for his old prison number, 466, and 1964, the year he was jailed, which is now used to raise awareness and money in the fight against AIDS.

He even appeared at huge international AIDS awareness events, such as the 46664 concert played in Cape Town, South Africa, the first in a series of anti-AIDS concerts.

Five Unexpected Facts About Nelson Mandela

"I would love to enjoy the peace and quiet of retirement, but I know that, like many of you, I cannot rest easily while our beloved continent is ravaged by a deadly epidemic," Mandela told the crowd at a benefit concert for AIDS relief in George, South Africa, in March 2005.

Mandela's presence at these AIDS relief concerts was moving, with thousands of people attending the events and funds raised to increase AIDS awareness.

Read Mandela's Most Inspirational Quotes

"When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing?" Mandela said at a concert in Tromso, Norway, in June 2005.

The legacy of Mandela's fight for the protection of children and those living with HIV and AIDS will continue to inspire South Africa--and the world--for generations to come.