As the world celebrates Nelson Mandela International Day, we bring you some of his greatest moments on film.

Every year since 2010, the world has marked Nelson Mandela and his legacy on July 18, which was his birthday. Mandela Day, as it is commonly known, is a global call to action and a chance to celebrate South Africa’s extraordinary former president.

The iconic leader was born into the Madibo clan in the village of Mvezo in the Eastern Cape on July 18, 1918. He became a lawyer, a tireless anti-apartheid activist, a political prisoner and eventually South Africa’s first black president.

In 1964, he said: ‘I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.’

Mandela’s official biographer, Anthony Sampson, described him as a ‘master of imagery and performance’. The politician admired the style and manners of the British and cultivated them for himself throughout his life. He is said to have made his own bed – even as president. He was extremely careful about his appearance, changing his clothes several times a day. The colourful, loose-fitting, silk shirts he favoured became known as Madiba shirts, after the name of his clan.

Strong as an ox, he survived a total of 27 years in prison and got married for the third time on his 80th birthday.

Here, from a mind-blowingly plentiful selection, are seven of Mandela’s greatest recorded moments.

Nelson Mandela’s First TV Interview, 1961

In 1961, ITN reporter Brian Widlake pulled some clever strings and managed to interview a 42-year-old Mandela, who was in hiding and on the run from the South African police. There is no pomp or pageantry here, no flamboyant shirts or memorable sound bites. Mandela is as serious here as we ever see him. He was arrested the following year. Watch it here.

Nelson Mandela’s Release From Prison, 1990

This is the moment Mandela left prison after being incarcerated for 27 years, six months and six days. On the afternoon of February 11, 1990, the leader of the ANC walked – hand in hand with Winnie, his wife at the time – to freedom. The glorious moment had it all: supporters, flags, sunshine and the broadest smiles. Try not to cry as he says at the rally that followed: ‘Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans. I great you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all…’ Watch it here.

Mandela Becomes President, 1994

Wearing some excellent aviator specs and a sharp three-piece suit, Mandela is sworn in as South Africa’s first black president. ‘The time for the healing of the wounds has come,’ he says in his inaugural speech. ‘The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.’ Properly spine-tingling stuff. Watch it here.

Nelson Mandela Marries For The Third Time, 1998

Few men feel like making their third marriage by the time of their 80th birthday. But few men can be compared to Mandela. The bride – Graca Machel, a lawyer and international campaigner for children’s rights – and groom had kept the world guessing as to whether they would tie the knot but were wreathed in smiles as they did so at home in Johannesburg on July 18, 1998. Watch it here.

Mandela Does Oprah, 2000

Unsurprisingly, Oprah describes this interview as ‘an interview of a lifetime’. Mandela’s humility and humour are beautifully showcased here, not least when Oprah recounts how the world-famous leader said to the producers before the show: ‘What is the subject of this interview?’ Watch it here.

Mandela’s 90th Birthday Interview, 2008

Here we see a calm and modest man pondering a long and remarkable life. In a particularly splendid shirt, Mandela sits in an armchair at his home while his grandchildren crowd around to sing him Happy Birthday. His voice is fading but his smile never does. Watch it here.

Nelson Mandela’s Funeral, 2013

South Africa’s first state funeral took place in Mandela’s childhood village. An utterly moving spectacle, it involved 12,000 soldiers and dignitaries from several countries. The congregation singing the South African national anthem to the strains of an orchestra. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica candles. Coffin draped in SA flag – a symbol of the country’s post-apartheid unity. ‘He went to school barefoot; in the end he rose to the highest office of the land. He became the president of SA in the greatest statement in the world.’ Watch it here.

By Becky Ladenburg
July 2021

Image copyright: John Matthew Smith

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Becky Ladenburg

Features Editor

As the GWG's features editor, Becky has her discerning finger on the cultural pulse. She's also our go-to expert on the property market.