Before his presidency, Mandela was a prominent anti-apartheid activist and leader of the African Nation Congress (ANC)and was sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage after he went underground and began the ANC's armed struggle.
Through his 27 years in prison, much of it spent on a cell in Robben Island, Mandela became the most widely known figure in the struggle against apartheid. Among opponents of apartheid in South Africa and internationally, he became a cultural icon of freedom and equality. However, the apartheid government and nations sympathetic to it condemned him and the ANC as communists and terrorists and he became a figure of hatred among many South African whites, supporters of the apartheid and opponents of the ANC.
Following his release from prison in 1990, his switch to a policy of reconciliation and negotiation helped lead the transition to multi-racial democracy in South Africa. Since the end of the apartheid, he has been widely praised, even among white South Africans and his opponents.
Like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela can also be looked up to as an excellent writer of social commentary. Through his excellent command of the English language, Nelson Mandela was able to pass his messages across to many South Africans and many people world wide.
Here is Nelson Mandela's New Speech for the year 1998:
Good evening! Thobela!
Ke a le dumedisa!
As 1997 draws to a close, South Africa faces a future filled with both challenge and hope.
If the early years of our democracy brought celebration of our very freedom and common humanity; if these first three years of freedom meant the outpouring of national pride in the prowess of our sporting teams, in our new constitution and more; then this past year has been one in which slowly but surely, we are all coming to better appreciate the difficulties of change, as well as the sweat and toil required to improve our lives and forge out unity as a nation.
At a time when some of the most vibrant economies in the world have been buffeted by storms, we have performed relatively well. this encourages us to join hands with a new determination - as big and small business, as government and society at large - to create more jobs.
We are proud that the numbers of people gaining access to basic services grow in thousands by the day. Water, electricity, sanitation and health-care have reached communities for whom they were but a dream. Our children now entering school will never know the painful burden of racial education.
South Africans have never been so united in their determination to deal with crime. The syndicates are being uncovered and a life of crime is becoming more and more uncomfortable. Steadily, the holes in the criminal justice system are being plugged. For this modest achievement, law-abiding citizens and members of the security forces alike deserve our congratulations.
While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is taking us on a difficult journey, it is one that has helped us understand our painful past. Incomplete and imperfect as the process may be, it shall leave us less burdened by the past and unshackled to pursue a glorious future.
Though we take rightful pride in these achievements, we know that they are only a start. We know that the number of people reached in service delivery are not nearly enough; the quality still needs much improvement; the crime rate is still too high; and the divisions of the past still play themselves out in many areas. We know that our tasks will take years to complete.
For our country to succeed requires the combined efforts of all of us, in all walks of life. It requires all spheres of government, not least at local level, to fulfil the trust which citizens have placed in them.
For us all, therefore, the new year must be one in which each and every one of us shares the responsibility for building on the foundation that has been laid.
Our achievements so far have shown what can be done when we set aside petty differences and together pursue the common good.
By working together we can build the South Africa of our dreams
I wish you all a happy, prosperous and ful
filling New Year.
God bless South Africa!
Many more of Nelson Mandela's speeches can be found here. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------