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Nelson Mandela Day

Nelson Mandela Day

Nelson Mandela Day is an international day in honour of the late great Nelson Mandela, celebrated each year on his birthday, 18th July.

Who was Nelson Mandela?

Nelson Mandela was the first black president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. 

He was born into the royal family of the Thembu tribe on the 18th July 1918 in Mvezo, South Africa. His mother was the third wife of Mandela’s father, who served as chief between 1880 and 1928.


Nelson Mandela in 1937, aged 19/20
Nelson Mandela in 1937


 Mandela was the first of his family to receive a formal education and went on to study law, becoming one of South Africa’s first black lawyers. As a young man, Mandela dreamed of a world where people, regardless of their race, lived in harmony with equal opportunities. In 1944, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC), a political group that fought for equal rights for both white and black people. 

Mandela is said to be the ‘father’ of modern South Africa, and a symbol for those fighting for freedom and equality. He was pivotal in the end of apartheid and dedicated his life to peace and social justice. 

What was Apartheid? 

It was in 1948 that the South African government introduced a new system called ‘Apartheid’. Apartheid, meaning ‘apartness’, separated people according to the colour of their skin. People of colour were forced to attend different schools, use separate public facilities, and were restricted to certain types of jobs. 


Sign from the Apartheid era in South Africa
Sign from the Apartheid era in South Africa


What did Nelson Mandela do?

Following the introduction of Apartheid laws, Mandela set up various peaceful protests supported by the ANC. The protests were met with violence and in the 1950s Mandela formed the ANC Youth League. The South African government banned activists from protesting. 

Nelson Mandela did not believe in violence as a way of solving problems, but with many peaceful protests being ignored and unsuccessful, he organised a military movement to push back against the oppressive South African government. 

In 1962, Mandela was arrested and convicted for treason. In the famous 1964 trial, Mandela took the stand to say: 

I have fought against white domination, and 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.

How long was Nelson Mandela in prison for?

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, before being released in 1990 by the South African president, F. W. de Klerk, amidst growing international pressure to do so. On 11th February, Mandela left prison, holding his wife, Winnie’s hand. The event was broadcast around the world. During his imprisonment, the government had not allowed any photographs of Mandela to be published, so this was the first time the public had seen him for almost three decades.

What did Nelson Mandela win the Nobel Peace Prize for?

In 1993, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Nelson Mandela and the South African President, F. W. de Klerk. This was for the integral part they played in ending the Apartheid system together, and setting the foundations for a new, democratic South Africa.

When did Nelson Mandela become president?

Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president on the 10th May, 1994. He was 77 years old. F. W. de Klerk became his first deputy. During the five years that he was in power, Mandela worked hard to overturn the many consequences of the apartheid system, such as poverty and unequal access to services.

Although he did not stand for a second term of presidency, and retired from politics in June 1999, Mandela still continued to meet and talk with world leaders, and worked with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, begun in 1999, which supported rural development, school construction, and the fight against HIV and AIDS. 


Nelson Mandela in 2000
Nelson Mandela in 2000


When did Nelson Mandela die?

After several months of illness, Nelson Mandela died from a lung infection on 5th December 2013 at his home in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was 95 years old. Ten days of national mourning were announced, as well as a day of prayer and reflection.

Nelson Mandela’s achievements were crucial to the fight against racism and colonialism not just in South Africa, but across the world. Today, he is an icon of democracy and social justice. Nelson Mandela day symbolises not only the fight for racial equality, but also the continued need to educate and inspire change for future generations. 

It always seems impossible until it's done.

Nelson Mandela


Looking for ready-to-teach lessons about this inspirational man? Take a look at our Nelson Mandela: Special People 3-lesson planning pack for KS2.

You might also be interested in our Nelson Mandela Fact File and our Nelson Mandela Poster Quotes, which are both FREE to download!


Ten fascinating facts about Nelson Mandela:

  • Mandela was born ‘Rolihlahla Mandela’ and was given the name Nelson by his school teacher. It was common practise to give all children ‘Christian’ names when they started school.
  • The king of his village threatened Mandela with an arranged marriage, but he refused and fled to Johannesburg.
  • Mandela studied for a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University College of Fort Hare, but did not complete his degree. He was expelled for joining a student protest. 
  • Mandela qualified as a lawyer at the age of 24 in 1942.
  • Mandela married three times and had seven children.
  • Nelson Mandela received honorary degrees from more than 50 universities. 
  • The year Mandela was elected president was also the year he voted for the very first time.
  • Nelson Mandela was often referred to as ‘Madiba’, which was his clan name.
  • He wrote a book called Long Walk to Freedom.
  • On Mandela Day each year, people are encouraged to dedicate 67 minutes of their time to community service. The time represents the 67 years Mandela spent fighting for social justice.
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