Nelson Mandela smiling in a gold top

1918 – 2013

I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.

Nelson Mandela was born in the east of South Africa. His father died when he was only 12 years old, and he was looked after by the regent of the area. He listened and learnt a lot about the unfair segregation in his country, known as apartheid. This system was built on the idea that every aspect of your life – where you lived, the jobs you could do, the transport you could take were all decided by the colour of your skin. White people had the most economic and educational advantages and Black people the least, they weren’t even allowed to use their own languages at school.

As Mandela grew up, he became an anti-apartheid activist, and he became famous for spending 27 years in prison for fighting for equality between all South Africans. During his time in prison, world opinion became more and more on his side, and pressure was put on the government to change their system.

On his release he became South Africa’s first Black President. He campaigned globally for a fairer world. He is still an icon of resilience, optimism, integrity and fairness. Nelson Mandela spent 67 years of his life fighting for the rights of humanity.

If you are curious and want to know more about this amazing man read his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. For younger children Who Was Nelson Mandela by Meg Belviso and Pam Pollack is worth reading.

Another inspirational character who fought for his country’s independence was Mahatma Gandhi. His story can be fully explored on our site.