12 Actors Who Have Played Nelson Mandela

27 April 2016
M-Net Movies takes a look at who has played Nelson Mandela on film and television.
mandela long walk to freedom

Freedom Day, 27 April, commemorates South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994 – when Nelson Mandela became the president of the new South Africa. Before and after this historic day, filmmakers have sought to bring the great man and his history to the screen.

To play the part, the right actor had to be found to convey the warmth and wisdom of our leader. Today marks the 22nd year since the first democratic elections, so M-Net Movies decided to take a look back at actors who have played Madiba on screen through the years.

Danny Glover (1987)

In 1987 Glover gave film fans one of their favourite characters with his portrayal of Roger Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon; but it was also the year he took on the title role in the TV movie, Mandela. At the time the film was released, Mandela was still in prison.

Nelson Mandela (1992)

When you can’t find the right actor to play Mandela, what do you do? You cast the man himself. That’s exactly what Spike Lee did in the 1992 biopic Malcolm X. In a stirring scene which transitions between school children in the U.S. to a classroom in South Africa, Madiba is seen reciting Malcolm X’s famous “by any means necessary” speech.

Sidney Poitier (1997)

In 1993 Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk shared a Nobel Prize “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa." The 1997 TV movie Mandela and de Klerk follows the negotiations of the transition.

Lindane Nkosi  (2004)

If you thought a South African had never played Mandela, you were wrong. Local actor Nkosi plays Mandela in Drum, a South African film based on the life of investigative journalist Henry Nxumalo.

Dennis Haysbert (2007)

Based on the book by James Gregory, Goodbye Bafana follows the story of Mandela (played by Haysbert) and his relationship with a warrant office who guarded him for 20 years.

Morgan Freeman (2009)

Invictus chronicles Mandela’s effort to unite the newly democratic nation through sport, during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Freeman took on the role of the president, with Matt Damon cast as Springbok captain Francois Pienaar. Both actors earned Oscar nominations for their performances in the film.

Clarke Peters (2009)

Endgame featured three former South African presidents. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Thabo Mbeki, Timothy West is P.W. Botha, and  prolific television actor Peters plays Mandela. As the title suggests, the film takes place during the final years of Apartheid.

David Harewood (2010)

The BBC drama Mrs. Mandela focused on the story of Madiba’s second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. British actress Sophie Okonedo played the title character, with Homeland actor Harewood cast as her husband.

Terence Howard  (2011)

Directed by South African filmmaker Darrell Roodt, well known for films such as Sarafina! and Cry, the Beloved Country, the biopic Winnie Mandela stars Howard as Madiba, with Jennifer Hudson playing his eponymous wife.

Idris Elba (2013)

Besides Poitier’s and Freeman’s, Elba’s portrayal of Mandela is probably the best known. The British actor was cast as Madiba in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the film based on his autobiography.

Atandwa Kani (2013)

Atandwa is the son of celebrated South African playwright, director and actor John Kani, and makes the list as the only other South African actor to play Madiba. He plays a teenaged Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom.

Laurence Fishburne (2017)

In the upcoming TV series, Madiba, Fishburne will portray Nelson Mandela.