Nelson Mandela was born July 18, 1918.

President Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela, Ju...

Nelson Mandela, July 4 1993. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tomorrow he will be 95 years old.

How did he change the world?

I remember an editorial cartoon about Nelson Mandela when he was released, after 27 years in prison.

It showed an average-size man going into prison and a giant coming out.

Mandela was arrested on August 5, 1962 and eventually convicted of inciting workers’ strikes.

He was released on February 2, 1990.

Though kept in an 8×7-foot cell for 18 years, largely engaged in breaking rocks and working in a lime quarry, he studied for his law degree and wrote letters, initially only one every six months, eventually three a month, and by 1982, one a week.

He was trying to end South Africa’s system of apartheid, or racial segregation and rule by the minority white Afrikaners, a policy adopted just after World War II by the Dutch and British, who were formerly colonial powers over South Africa.

By 1970, black political representation had been banned.

In 1985, with increasing international pressure and sanctions, South African President P.W. Botha offered to release Mandela if he renounced all violence.

His response?

“What freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people [the African National Congress (ANC)] remains banned?”

“Only free men can negotiate.”

“A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”

In 1990, President Frederik Wilem de Klerk began negotiations to end apartheid.

Mandela was released from prison that year.

After his release, Mandela went on a world-wide tour, meeting the Pope, the President of France and President George H. W. Bush, then addressing both houses of Congress, as well as meeting with a number of African leaders and President Fidel Castro in Cuba.

In 1994, Mandela ran against de Klerk and was elected President of South Africa.

Mandela named de Klerk the first Deputy President and a number of other whites to significant cabinet positions in his administration in an effort to demonstrate his intent at inclusion of minorities.

That year, he described his attitude about being imprisoned:

“In a way I had never quite comprehended before, I realized the role I could play in court and the possibilities before me as a defendant.”

“I was the symbol of justice in the court of the oppressor, the representative of the great ideals of freedom, fairness and democracy in a society that dishonoured those virtues.”

“I realized then and there that I could carry on the fight even in the fortress of the enemy.”

One of his most significant and symbolic acts to demonstrate his wish for reconciliation was when he asked black South Africans to support the white rugby team, the Springboks, when South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

When the Springboks won, Mandela presented the prize to the caption of the team, while wearing a Springbok shirt with the captain’s number on the back.

The drama is captured by Morgan Freeman, who played Mandela, in the film, “Invictus.”

Click on the movie name, Invictus, to order it on DVD from amazon.

In South Africa, Mandela is considered “the founding father of democracy.”

In 1993, he and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.”

And, now you know how rugby can change the world.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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