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The Archives: Vintage Photographs of Global Icon Nelson Mandela


The story of the man known as Nelson Mandela is well known at this point. The political legend, born Rolihlahla Mandela into the Thembu family before being given the moniker “Nelson” by his schoolteacher, is famously known as the man who helped to bring about the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa – the system of segregation in which people were divided into racial groups and kept apart by law – and went on to become the country’s first Black president in 1994.

The road to the presidency, of course, did not run smooth. Mandela was in and out of court and prison for a significant amount of time in his life, notably serving 27 years incarcerated on Robben Island, Pollsmoor and Victor Verster prisons after being captured by apartheid forces and sentenced to life imprisonment for treason in August 1964.

Sparking a worldwide campaign for his freedom, Mandela came to embody the global symbol for the fight against racism and inequality in South Africa. Following his release in February 1990, he stood for the presidency as leader of the African National Congress political party, in South Africa’s first multiracial election, and was inaugurated in May 1994. He was awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, along with the president who had him released, Frederik Willem de Klerk, for bringing about democracy in the country.

Mandela served just one five-year term as president from 1994 to 1999, before voluntarily stepping down. He was widely called “Madiba” a term of endearment in reference to his status as an elder statesman and “father of the nation.” His sense of style was also well-regarded, his signature printed and colorful button-up shirts even came to be known as “Madiba shirts”.

In 2009, the United Nations declared 18 July – his date of birth in 1918 – as International Nelson Mandela Day, in recognition of his service and contribution to peace and freedom around the world. It is a day where people are widely encouraged to make a difference in their communities, much like Mandela, and inspire change that could change the course of peace and social justice in their part of the world. Despite his de facto retirement in 1999, and well into old age Mandela devoted himself to a public life, meeting with various world leaders, founding the Nelson Mandela Foundation and advocating for human rights. After bouts of illnesses that had him hospitalized a few times, Nelson Mandela passed away at home in Johannesburg on 5 December 2013 at the age of 95, leaving behind a legacy that reverberates from Africa to the world over, and will continue for a long time to come.

In honor of the occasion of Nelson Mandela Day on 18 July, The Folklore shares a few vintage and rare images of the global icon who came to be a symbol of peace and freedom.

Nelson Mandela in 1956
Nelson Mandela, 1956. Photograph by Sipa Press/Rex Features

A portrait of Mandela in traditional dress, 1950
A portrait of Mandela in traditional dress, 1950. Photograph by Apic/Getty Images

A portrait of Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela

Mandela leaving court in Pretoria, South Africa, October 1958
 Mandela leaving court (with Moses Kotane, left) in Pretoria, South Africa, during his first treason trial, October 1958. Photograph by Jurgen Schadeberg/AP

Mandela and a man known only as Bikitsha, circa 1941
Mandela and a man known only as Bikitsha, circa 1941

Nelson Mandela and Winnie Madikizela’s wedding, 14 June 1958

Nelson Mandela and Winnie Madikizela’s wedding, 14 June 1958. Photograph by Gallo Images/Getty Images/Avusa

Nelson and Winnie Mandela with their daughter, Zindzi, at their home in Soweto, 1961
Nelson and Winnie Mandela with their daughter, Zindzi, at their home in Soweto, 1961. Photograph by Alf Khumalo /AP