Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – 1988, South Africa

An icon in the fight against racism, Nelson Mandela led South Africa’s historic transition from apartheid to a racially inclusive democracy and promoted equal opportunities and peace for all.

'What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made in the lives of others', Nelson Mandela once said.

Nelson Mandela died on 5 December 2013 at his home in Johannesburg, at the age of 95. His passing was met with a worldwide outpouring of grief but also with celebration of a life dedicated to freedom, democracy and equality.

Along with Soviet dissident Anatoli Marchenko, he was the first recipient of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize in 1988. At the time he was still being kept under house arrest by South Africa's apartheid regime, which imprisoned him for 27 years for his fight against racism.

Mandela was an active member of the African National Congress and a co-founder of South Africa's first black law firm. He became more militant as apartheid grew more oppressive. He was condemned to life in prison in 1964 and finally released in 1990, as the apartheid regime began to buckle under international and domestic pressure.

Shortly after his release, Mandela spoke to the European Parliament of the need for a just and lasting solution to transform South Africa into a 'united, democratic and non-racial country'. Anything less would be 'an insult to the memory of the countless patriots in South Africa and the rest of our region, who have sacrificed their very lives, to bring us to the moment today when we can confidently say that the end of the apartheid system is in sight'. During the 1990s Mandela led South Africa's transition from apartheid to a racially inclusive democracy. As president, from 1994-1999, he championed 'truth and reconciliation' as the path to peace.

On his death in 2013 tributes flowed, including from the European Parliament. 'South Africa today loses its father, the world loses a hero. I pay tribute to one of the greatest humans of our time. Nelson Mandela dies today, but his legacy will last forever,' European Parliament President Martin Schulz said.

In the words of Kofi Annan, 'Nelson Mandela led a singular life of sacrifice, dignity and political genius that brought about the peaceful end of one of the great evils of modern times'.