Nelson Mandela
2017 Mattie J.T. Stepanek Peacemaker Award Honoree

Nelson Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist. He served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, as the country's first black head of state and first to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Mandela’s government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid and fostering racial reconciliation. Ideologically an African nationalist and socialist, he served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997.

Mandela became involved in African nationalist politics while working as a lawyer in Johannesburg, where he joined the ANC in 1943, and cofounded its Youth League in 1944 with Walter Sisulu, Anton Lembede and others. When the white-only government established apartheid, Mandela and the ANC committed themselves to its overthrow. Mandela went onto join the South African Communist Party (SACP), through which he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe and led a campaign against the government. In 1962, Mandela was arrested for conspiring to overthrow the state and sentenced to life imprisonment. He served 27 years in prison until 1990 when President F. W. de Klerk released him. Mandela and de Klerk negotiated an end to apartheid and organized the 1994 multiracial general election. Mandela led the ANC to victory and became President.

Mandela emphasized reconciliation between racial groups, created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses, and introduced measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty and expand healthcare services. Internationally, Mandela acted as mediator in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial and served as Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement. He became an elder statesman, focusing on combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the charitable Nelson Mandela Foundation.

As an icon of democracy and social justice, Mandela received more than 250 honors including the Nobel Peace Prize. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, commonly described as the "Father of the Nation".