Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is often referred to as the “Father of the Nation” in South Africa. Mandela was an anti-apartheid revolutionary who served 27 years in prison before being released in 1990 due to international pressure and the threat of a racial civil war. An official end to apartheid came in 1994 when Mandela was elected as the country’s first black head of state in South Africa’s first truly open democratic election. During his single term as president, Mandela focused on the reconciliation of the various racial groups within the newly reborn nation. He established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in order to investigate human rights abuses that occurred under apartheid. After his presidency, Mandela devoted his time to battling poverty and HIV/AIDS via the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Venerated and beloved worldwide, Mandela was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and the U.S. National Medal of Freedom among other honors.

Illustration by Johnny Selman

South Africa

The raised fist salute dates back to ancient Assyria as a symbol of resistance in the face of violence. It is associated with numerous political movements and reaches the farthest extremes of the political spectrum. For Mandela, the clenched fist symbolized both his personal struggle and that of his fellow South Africans during apartheid. Mandela led the African National Congress to victory in the first election after the end of apartheid. The ANC continues to use the raised fist salute as a symbol of struggle and remembrance.

Total Area
1,221,037 km2

South African

Unitary parliamentary republic


Pretoria (executive), Bloemfontein (judicial), Cape Town (legislative)