The Madiba Shirt was a creation for and with Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, the first to be elected in a fully representative democratic election.
In 1994, the designer Desre Buirski gave a gift of a hand-printed batik shirt to Nelson Mandela’s body guard, with a note saying “Thank you for everything you have done and the sacrifices you have made for our beloved country”. Mr Mandela wore the shirt the next day to the dress rehearsal for the opening of Parliament, and was photographed on the front page of a local newspaper.
Mr Mandela has received international acclaim for his anti-colonial and antiapartheid stance, having received over 250 awards, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, and is held in deep respect within South Africa as the “Father of the Nation”, where he is often known under his Xhosa clan name of Madiba.
Desre Buirski subsequently designed many printed, embroidered and over 150 hand-painted silk shirts for South Africa’s beloved Madiba, which he wore on the world stage, becoming a global style as well as political icon. The style of ’The Madiba Shirt’ evolved as Mr Mandela requested various shirts throughout his time as President.
“He told me he liked earth tones. Needless to say over the years I have covered every shade of earth tone imaginable – as well as every other colour of the rainbow.”*
“On one particularly memorable occasion in 1995 I received a call from Mary Mxadana saying that President Mandela had asked if I would make him a collection of special black silk shirts for his State visit to England as he had been invited to be a guest of her Majesty the Queen and was to stay at Buckingham Palace”*
His wife, Graca, has told me that he is “vain”, always well dressed, neatly put together. This is as much about personal pride as it is about projecting an image of a man who is confident, successful and trustworthy**
Various styles of ‘The Madiba Shirt’ have been worn by some of the greatest men of our time, and continue to project confidence and individuality when worn by men of influence today.