South Africans will never forget the year of 1994, during which there was great cathartic change in the nation. Within a period of 12 months apartheid was abolished, the African National Congress (ANC), a social democratic political party, was introduced and the first ever black head of state was elected.
Prior to 1994, the country was heavily characterised by the apartheid, white supremacist laws and routine violence against people of colour. However, the political climate of the rainbow nation underwent significant change in 1994. It was then that 22 million South Africans chose a black man, Nelson Mandela, to lead them.
Mandela had been a popular figure in South African politics since 1944 when he joined the ANC as a lawyer. The ANC was the nation’s oldest black political party and it was extremely vocal against apartheid and white supremacy. After serving as the leader of the ANC Johannesburg youth wing, Mandela rose to the rank of deputy national president in 1952.
In 1961, he was discovered engaging in guerilla warfare against the white minority and arrested for treason. Although the court ruled him innocent, he was illegally sentenced to 5 years at Robben Island Prison. In 1964, he was yet again convicted, but this time he was given a life sentence. In prison, Mandela was subjected to brutal living conditions, forced to live in a tiny room without bed or plumbing, and visiting access was reduced to once a year.
Through it all, Mandela’s resolve remained unbroken. Whilst in prison, he led a movement of civil disobedience, coercing officials into improving the living conditions for prisoners. For 27 years, Mandela lived in Robben Island prison and he was later moved into another location and kept under house arrest.
After his release, he led the ANC’s negotiation with the government to end apartheid and established a multiracial government. In 1993, Mandela (along with de Klerk) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. When the ANC won an electoral majority in the 1994 elections, Mandela was elected president, a position he held until 1999.
To this day, Mandela is remembered as a celebrated freedom fighter and a champion for sports enthusiasts. Under his presidency, South Africa was welcomed back into the Commonwealth and allowed to participate in major sporting events. Mandela invigorated his fellow South Africans with a common goal: to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Residents remember 1995 as a time when the people at last “unified in joy” as they sat together to cheer on their national rugby team, the Springboks. At the final game, Mr. Mandela famously said, “Know your enemy – and learn about his favorite sport.”