Born on July 18, 1918, in a small village called Transkei in South Africa, Nelson Mandela would go on to lead a nation, change lives and in the process become an inspiration to countless others across the world.
From establishing the first black law firm in South Africa, to forming the African National Congress Youth League, and even refusing a pardon due to continued injustice, he is regarded as an icon of democracy and social justice.
He was the recipient of more than 250 honours—including the Nobel Peace Prize.
As the world celebrate Mandela Day, we look at 5 changes that the great world leader brought about:
Taught the world to never give up on cause or country: Nelson Mandela was only 44 years old when he was given a life sentence by the apartheid regime for his leadership of the African National Congress, an organization outlawed by the government for its anti-apartheid actions and positions. Mandela was first arrested on treason charges just four years after starting South Africa’s first black law firm and working with others calling for a nonracial state in the country. He would later be acquitted of these charges, only to be arrested yet again in 1962 for his work as a leader within the African National Congress. He was finally released after 27 years of imprisonment.
Made the struggles of his nation a worldwide phenomenon: It was in the mid-1980s that the world slowly awakened to the suffering of the South Africans under apartheid rule. And even though Mandela was behind bars by then, as anti-apartheid rallies grew, so did awareness of Mandela’s struggle for freedom for black South Africans. His message was so powerful that a protest song named “Free Nelson Mandela,” written and performed by the ska band 'Special AKA' after attending such a rally It was among the top ten hits in the UK, and became a legendary anthem worldwide.
Set an example of dedication, sacrifice and courage: During his trial, Mandela refused to defend himself in order to not legitimize the charges levied against him. In 1985, the government offered to release Mandela under the conditions that he would not engage in political activities once free. Nelson refused. "I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free," he said. "Your freedom and mine cannot be separated."
Set up Nelson Mandela Foundation to keep up work on justice and peace: Founded in 1999, the Nelson Mandela Foundation is the legacy that Mandela has left behind. The organization focuses on what was central to Mandela’s work: justice, dialogue, and social cohesion. The foundation “aims to use the history, experience, values, vision and leadership of its Founder to provide a non-partisan platform for public discourse on important social issues, and in doing so, to contribute to policy decision-making.”
Contributed to fight against HIV/AIDS: In 2000, it was found that a quarter of South African citizens between the ages of 15 and 45 tested positive for HIV/ AIDS. Nelson Mandela single-handedly set a new agenda for the future fight against HIV/AIDS with a groundbreaking speech in 2000 at an International AIDS conference in Durban.