What was Nelson Mandela best known for?

The peaceful fighter against apartheid

Nelson Mandela's policy of reconciliation

Nelson Mandela paved the way for a conciliatory transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa and was elected the country's first black president in 1994. Just four years after his release in 1990, the indomitable fighter against racism managed to pass a provisional constitution and organize democratic elections together with the last president of the white regime, Frederik de Klerk. Mandela's goal all along has been a policy of reconciliation and forgiveness. The charismatic president implemented this with great support during the five years of his term of office, thus completing the peaceful transition from a racist dictatorship to a democracy.


Liberation from oppression is a human right.
Nelson Mandela

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Mandela advocated coming to terms with the past and in 1996 created a truth and reconciliation commission headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The commission was criticized for the fact that many of the ready-to-test perpetrators received protection against prosecution, the victims had to endure too much during the hearings and their subsequent compensation was insufficient. Nonetheless, the commission cleared up many crimes of the past and at least brought the relatives of those who had disappeared with certainty about their fate. Numerous perpetrators also showed remorse, and many victims forgave them.


Health care for all

Major health care reforms took place under Mandela's presidency. For example, from 1994, children under the age of six and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers received free health care. In 1996, basic health care for all was also free of charge. He only underestimated one illness. One of the most unfortunate mistakes of his tenure, as Mandela himself once said, was his inaction against HIV and AIDS. The democratic reforms and the restructuring of a country three times the size of Germany would have taken too much of him. He did not realize at the time that South Africa was facing an enormous crisis: an HIV epidemic that was to become the largest in the world.


HIV and AIDS: Mandela's Statement Against Exclusion

Mandela's successor in the presidency, Thabo Mbeki, has deliberately turned a blind eye to the HIV epidemic. He publicly denied the link between HIV and AIDS, and the South African government refused to offer anti-retroviral treatment in the public health sector. Nelson Mandela then demonstratively stood behind Zackie Achmat, the most famous HIV-positive person in South Africa at the time and founder of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a partner organization of Bread for the World. Zackie Achmat had decided not to take any anti-retroviral drugs herself until they were available to the general public. His fight almost killed him, but it was ultimately a success.

In early 2005, Mandela announced that his son Makgatho had died of AIDS. Mandela was one of the few politicians who spoke publicly about HIV and AIDS in their own families. In this way he made a significant contribution to the fact that HIV was no longer ignored and concealed. Mandela supported the fight for the treatment of HIV and AIDS until his death in December 2013, when he died at the age of 95.


Inspiration for the work of Bread for the World

The history of Mandela and South Africa has great significance for bread for the world. Mandela's non-violent resistance has always inspired our work and will not be forgotten. Bread for the World has been active in South Africa since the mid-1970s. In the years after apartheid and the establishment of democratic structures, Bread for the World supported more than 100 partner organizations in South Africa. The aim of the projects that we implemented in the 1990s was essentially to combat the aftermath of apartheid.

Today we continue to support the population in overcoming poverty and fighting inequality, which has even increased since the end of apartheid. Since 2003 we have been working with the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), which continues the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We also promote political participation and the rule of law and support people who are affected by domestic violence or HIV and AIDS.