Today is Mandela Day (officially Nelson Mandela International Day), an observance designated by the United Nations to honor the legacy of the South African anti-apartheid leader. Since 2010, Mandela Day has been observed every year on July 18, Mandela’s birthday, and this is the first Mandela Day since his death in December of last year. Each year, the South African government calls on its citizens to celebrate Mandela Day by performing 67 minutes of community service, the number having been chosen in recognition of Mandela’s 67 years of social activism. This year’s service campaign is called “Operation Clean-Up for Madiba,” and is focused on picking up litter and cleaning schools and other public places. (Mandela is often affectionately referred to as Madiba, which is his Xhosa clan name.)
In addition to being a crusader for racial justice and his country’s first black president, Mandela was also a lawyer. Along with his partner, Oliver Tambo, Mandela established South Africa’s first black law firm in 1952. Ten years later, when the government charged him with inciting workers to strike and leaving the country without valid documentation, Mandela represented himself in court. In this and other trials, he used his speeches to the court to highlight the plight of black South Africans under apartheid and to promote the cause of the African National Congress.
Anyone interested in learning more about Nelson Mandela should visit the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s website at nelsonmandela.org. The Foundation’s databases and archives contain a wealth of materials related to the anti-apartheid movement and to Mandela specifically. The Mandela trial papers, hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand, will be of particular interest to lawyers and law students.