Abogacía | 19.07.2018

UIA Offers Posthumous Title of Honorary Member to Nelson Mandela

On July 18th, 2018, in honor of what would have been Nelson Mandela's 100th birthday, the UIA awarded him the posthumous title of Honorary Member. The ceremony took place in the Portuguese Ministry of Justice and was hosted by the Portuguese Minister of Justice Francisca van Dunem and UIA President, Pedro Pais de Almeida. The following is the speech he gave at this occasion. 

"Nelson Mandela was a lawyer, a disruptive leader and the winner of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1939, at age 21, he began his law studies at Fort Hare University.

His academic life was at times complicated, especially after 1948, with the implementation of the Apartheid regime with the new Prime Minister, Daniel François Malan.

In the 1940s, access to the legal profession in South Africa imposed a 5 year internship and successful completion of the admission examination to the Law Society.

Nelson Mandela completed his law degree by correspondence, working at the same time with a lawyer named Lazar Sidelsky (of the law firm Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman), who hired him as a clerk. He qualified as a lawyer in March 1951. It is important to note that in 1962, there were only 13 black lawyers out of a total of about 3,000 lawyers in South Africa.

On December 4, 1953, he formed a law firm with Oliver Tambo, the Mandela and Tambo Attorneys, the first black law firm. According to reports, Mandela was an effective advocate, although in court he was sometimes prone to theatrics and extravagant gestures.

As passage of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, is strikingly on point:

"I quickly realized what the law firm, Mandela and Tambo, meant for ordinary Africans. It was a place where they could find a sympathetic ear and a competent ally, a place where they would not be turned down or deceived, a place where they could feel proud to be represented by men of their own skin color. That was the reason why I became a lawyer in the first place, and my work often made me feel that I had made the right decision.".

On 5 August 1962, Mandela was arrested and later tried at the Johannesburg Regional Court for inciting a strike and leaving the country without a passport. He was found guilty, sentenced to 5 years in prison and then sent to Robben Island, where he was placed in solitary confinement.

In June 1963, more than 200 acts of sabotage had been committed in South Africa. On July 11, 1963, police searched the Rivonia suburb and found extensive documentation linking Mandela to the conspirators.

Nelson Mandela was tried for these crimes, was found guilty and ultimately sentenced to life imprisonment. Nelson Mandela spent the next 27 years of his life in prison - initially on Robben Island and later in the Pollsmoor and Victor Verster prisons.

After an international campaign, he was released in 1990, when the threat of a civil war was imminent in South Africa.

When, in March of 2013, I visited the Robben Island prison, guided by a former political prisoner and Nelson Mandela’s fellow inmate, I was overwhelmed by the Statesman and his extraordinary vision, because only with such a vision could it have been possible to get out of prison and shortly then after take over the presidency of South Africa and achieving the national reconciliation of that country.

He is undoubtedly considered the most important leader of Black Africa and the father of the modern South African nation, where he is usually referred to as “Madiba” (name of his clan) or “Tata” (“Father”).

From 1994 to 1999, he was President of South Africa, following the first multiracial elections held.

On December 5, 2013, after a lifelong dedication to his country, Nelson Mandela passed away at age 95.

The next day, the Law Society of South Africa issued the following statement:

“To the world he was an icon, to his family and our nation, a father, but to the attorneys’ profession he was the embodiment of the principles that all in the profession aspire to: reconciliation, social justice and respect for the values enshrined in the Bill of Rights. As a profession we are honored that Mr Mandela chose to serve in our ranks. He, along with Oliver Tambo, opened the first black attorneys’ firm in the country, providing hope and dignity to a people given to despair, leading the way for our current generation of attorneys.”


In his honor, the United Nations established the Nelson Mandela International Day, on the day of his birth, as a way to value the struggle for freedom, justice and democracy around the world.

Today, on 18 July 2018, we celebrate the centenary of his birth. As early as 2013, the UIA had paid tribute to him shortly after his death.

Now, we take this symbolic date of the centenary of his birth, and offer the posthumous title of Honorary Member of the Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA) to Nelson Mandela.

It is a great pride for the UIA, and for me personally, to count Nelson Mandela as an honorary member of the Union Internationale des Avocats!

In conclusion, it is worth remembering one of the many phrases that made him famous:

“It always seems impossible until it's done.” - Nelson Mandela"

Pedro Pais de Almeida
President of Union Internationale des Avocats (The International Lawyers Association)