The 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was celebrated on July 18, 2018. Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1993) and recipient of numerous honors, Mandela was the first president of post-apartheid democratic South Africa (1994-1999) and has been widely acknowledged as one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century.
In this article I shall examine his career, leadership style, his faith and some of the posthumous controversies about him, concluding that, despite his many faults, Mandela’s greatness remains. Indeed, I shall suggest that he was above all a public figure who embodied many of the central precepts of Catholic Social Thought.
Since his life has been comprehensively covered in his autobiography and by biographers, and since Mandela’s story is widely known, I shall be brief in summing up his remarkable life.
Born in Mvezo in 1918, near Mthatha, in what is today the Eastern Cape Province, the son of a Thembu chief, after his Xhosa initiation he was given the name Dalibunga (“maker of parliaments”). Although this probably expressed his expected role in the Xhosa community, the name is prescient given his later political career