From the Archive
December 5, 2013
by Magnum Photographers
On December 5th South African leader Nelson Mandela passed away at home at the age of 95.
He became involved in the anti-apartheid movement early in his life, before joining the African National Congress in 1942. Focusing on grassroots initiatives, he organized nonviolent protests against the government for 20 years, and co-founded a law firm providing free counseling for unrepresented blacks.
In 1961, Mandela was sentenced to five years in prison for organizing a workers’ strike, and was handed a life sentence for political offenses in 1963. He served 27 years -- 18 at the infamous Robben Island -- and became a growing symbol of the black struggle, gaining worldwide support throughout his incarceration. He famously rejected multiple offers for release until 1990, citing a lack of reform in the government.
Mandela was elected president of the African National Congress in 1991. He negotiated with President F.W. de Klerk amidst tumultuous protests, eventually reaching an agreement to dismantle apartheid, for which he won a Nobel Prize. South Africa held its first democratic elections in 1994, and Mandela was elected as the country’s first black president at the age of 77, an office he held until 1999.
As President, Mandela worked to bring the country to black majority rule, largely utilizing sports to improve race relations. He also saved the economy from collapse, and signed a new constitution for the nation centered on central government, majority rule, rights for minorities, and freedom of expression.
For South Africa, for the entire international community, for anyone who supports the universal struggle for peace and equality, the loss of Nelson Mandela is immense. Multiple Magnum photographers have captured Mandela’s incredible life for over 50 years, from his time as a defense lawyer to Robben Island to his presidency. We look back at the impact and power of the iconic leader over the decades, as we celebrate his life and career.