Nelson Mandela

Which leader from the 1990s was often referred to as Madiba?

And the answer: Nelson Mandela.

Also known by his ancestral name of Madiba, Nelson Mandela was a South African social rights activist, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for helping to dismantle South Africa's apartheid system. He went on to become the country's first Black president, serving from 1994 to 1999.

Photo credit: TREVOR SAMSON | Credit: AFP via Getty Images. 

As the son of a chief, Nelson Mandela grew up with access to the some of the best education available to Black South Africans under apartheid. Mandela was raised with ancestral stories of valor during the wars of resistance, instilling in young Mandela the need to contribute in his own way to the freedom struggle of his people. At Fort Hare University, Mandela first became involved with student protests, which would soon become a lifelong commitment to fighting injustice and inequality.

In his early twenties, Mandela moved to Johannesburg, where he first encountered the racial inequalities that pervaded the city (and would soon be set into law with apartheid). There, he joined the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest Black political organization in South Africa. Meanwhile, in 1948, the white electorate in South Africa voted into power the Nationalist government, and the battle lines were drawn.

In 1955, the ANC and other organizations called upon people of all races to gather in Kliptown to approve the Freedom Charter: a blueprint for a free, democratic, and multiracial South Africa. Mandela, one of the chief organizers of the gathering, was banned by the government from attending, and was forced to watch proceedings from the sidelines. Later, he and other members of the ANC were charged with high treason, and were subject to nearly a five-year trial that was designed to keep the Black organizers occupied and out of politics. Ultimately, it would be another 40 years until the Freedom Charter was able to take effect.

Yet, Mandela never gave up the fight – even behind bars. In 1964, the activist was sentenced to life in prison, and although it would be several decades until he could again walk free, his spirit never wavered. In 1990, Mandela was released, and in May 1994 he was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected President.

"I have fought against white domination. I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." – Nelson Mandela, 1964.

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