“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

Former South African President, Nelson Mandela, was born in the Eastern Cape on 18 July 1918. His father died when he was nine and Mandela was placed in the care of the acting regent of the Thembu tribe. In 1943, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) as an activist and then, together with Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, became a founder and president of the ANC Youth League.

Mandela qualified as a lawyer and in 1952 set up South Africa’s first black law firm with Oliver Tambo. Mandela and Tambo campaigned against the racially-based system of apartheid and called on the government to repeal all discriminatory legislation or face a ‘Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws’. Mandela travelled the country recruiting volunteers and organising resistance. Rallies and strikes attracted thousands of supporters. The Nationalist government reacted by introducing draconian penalties for protests against apartheid. Campaign leaders were banned and thousands of people arrested, including Mandela. The court determined that in view of the disciplined and nonviolent nature of the campaign, Mandela should receive only a suspended sentence, but imposed a banning order confining him to Johannesburg for six months and prohibiting him from attending gatherings.


In 1956 Mandela, along with Tambo, Sisulu and 153 others, was charged with high treason under the Suppression of Communism Act, a piece of legislation designed as a ‘catch-all’ for all opponents of the regime. After a four-year trial the charges were dropped after it was shown that the ANC did not advocate violence. The fight against apartheid escalated when police shot dead 69 black people in the Sharpeville Massacre of 21 March 1960. The ANC was banned and Mandela went underground. Peaceful resistance was replaced with economic sabotage. Mandela became national vice-president of the ANC.


In 1990, while South Africa was under global economic and political pressure to reform its policies, President FW de Klerk announced that Nelson Mandela was to be released and the ban on the ANC lifted. In December 1993, Mandela and De Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Five months later, inclusive democratic elections were held in which the ANC gained 63% of the vote and Mandela was inaugurated as President where he devoted his time to rebuil the international image of South Africa.

After his retirement, his public appearances were mostly connected with the work of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, a charitable fund he founded in August 1999.