Nelson Mandela was born 100 years ago, in July 1918, and thirty years ago this month received the Freedom of Dublin. Jim Rees tells his story.


Despite the proliferation of ‘celebrities’, true heroes and heroines can still be found. Nelson Mandela must, by any standard, be among those select few. It’s not simply what he achieved, it is the way he achieved it. Born on 18th July, 1918, Mandela grew up in a South Africa in which the vast majority were treated as second class people, if they were treated as people at all. It was something that burned into his consciousness very deeply, and he pledged to eradicate the stark racial divide.

He was luckier than most in that he was one of the few black people to receive a good secondary and third level education, studying law and how he might use it to help the oppressed.

But the apartheid regime was cranked up a notch in 1948 when the white supremacist National Party was elected. Even more infringements of the rights of black people were imposed.

Mandela had been a member of the African National Congress (ANC) since 1943 and he supported that organisation’s boycotts, strikes and civil disobedience measures. He was also prominent in promoting the Freedom Charter in the early 1950s.

He and a friend, Oliver Tambo, opened the country’s first black law firm in 1952, specialising in cases of people directly affected by the apartheid laws.

As is usually the case with oppressive regimes, these peaceful measures met with government violence, both overt and covert. Mandela and over 150 other activists were arrested on charges of treason in 1956.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own