25 Years Since President Mandela and Ted Sorensen with Paul, Weiss Developed South Africa Free Election Fund (SAFE)

CUNY Law’s Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice Continues Ted Sorensen’s Legacy

This month, July 2018, marks the 100 years since Nelson Mandela was born and 25 years since he joined forces with Ted Sorensen and Paul, Weiss to build voter education and mobilization capacity, in advance of the first democratic elections in South Africa in April 1994. 

Nelson Mandela described the purpose of SAFE as a “voter education campaign, which involves the 18 million people who have never voted before, irrespective of their political persuasion.” The impressive effort raised more than $6.5 million and supported 60 voter education and participation projects SAFE worked, in partnership with the Rev. Dr. Beyers Naude and the Ecumenical Assistance Trust in South Africa throughout every region of the country, with targeted efforts to reach those with the greatest need for information, especially women and rural populations.

When Ted Sorensen worked to build financial support for SAFE, he said, “I am not asking you to give to charity. I am asking you to participate in history.” The successful fundraising campaign was led by SAFE’s co-chairs, Irish business executive Anthony J.F. O’Reilly and Paul, Weiss partner Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, and fundraising committee chair Vincent May, president of AEA Investors. 

Working closely with Ted were Paul, Weiss alumnus Chris Merkling, Paul, Weiss alumna Loren Braithwaite Kabosha,and Marco Masotti, a current Paul, Weiss corporate partner, who grew up in South Africa and serves on the Founding Advisory Board of the Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice.

Paul Weiss Mandela

On July 1, 1993, Mandela visited Paul, Weiss for SAFE’s first formal board meeting and held a press conference
(L to R, Nelson Mandela, Anthony O’Reilly, Ted Sorensen)
Credit: Sorensen Center Gallery Archive 



…I am now 75 years, and yet in my country, I have never had the opportunity to vote. I have the qualifications that many whites in our country have. The right to vote should not depend on what academic qualifications you have. One should vote because he’s a human being. But if academic qualifications were required, I would qualify to vote. And yet, at 75, I have never voted. I don’t even know what happens in a voting station. All that I know is that if I vote — if I have the vote — I may be sent to parliament; I may contribute towards the election of a government of my choice… 

 --Nelson Mandela, 1993, at a New York luncheon at the Metropolitan Club on behalf of SAFE


Gay McDougall, a member of the Sorensen Center’s Founding Advisory Board, stood beside Nelson Mandela when he voted for the first time in April 1994. She had raised funds for the support and legal fight to free many political prisoners in apartheid South Africa and became a member of South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission, which successfully conducted the country’s first multi-racial elections.

McDougall Mandela

Nelson Mandela voting for the first time; Gay McDougall to left.
Credit: UN/Chris Sattberger


In Ted Sorensen’s memoir, Counselor, he describes how SAFE started with no office, no staff, and no funds less than one year before the election day. “By Election Day, a tremendous turnout and an extraordinarily low percentage of spoiled ballots proved that SAFE’s mission had been accomplished. Few endeavors in my own career, in either the public or private sector, have made me more proud.”



“These anniversaries are an opportunity for people to celebrate and recommit themselves to the kind of principled dedication to equality that Nelson Mandela represents to all of us.” 

--Gay McDougall, member of the Sorensen Center Advisory Board


Sachs Group

L to R, Sorensen Fellow Lori Ann Fisher, Scholar-in-Residence Justice Albie Sachs, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, and Sorensen Fellow Naomi Young 


Sorensen Center Founding Executive Director Camille Massey noted, “Given both Ted and CUNY Law’s ties to South Africa, it’s particularly meaningful that the Sorensen Center has hosted two outstanding Scholars-in-Residence from South Africa — Justice Albie Sachs and Justice Richard Goldstone — and placed six Sorensen Center Fellows at leading South African institutions.”


Through the Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice Fellowship Program, started in 2015, students use their skills and experience to make a difference locally and globally, with internships throughout the U.S. and around the world. 

The Sorensen Center Fellowship Program is made possible by support from Jill and Jay Bernstein’s Harold P. Bernstein Fellowship Fund, the Haywood Burn Global Fellowship Fund, Joel Z. Hyatt, and other generous donors.


The following CUNY Law students selected as Sorensen Center Fellows interned in South Africa: 


  • Juliet Critisimilios (’18), University of Cape Town and Women’s Legal Centre, Cape Town
  • Abigail Downs (’18), Legal Resources Centre (LRC), Cape Town
  • Lorre Ann Fisher (3L), Southern African Litigation Centre, Johannesburg
  • Rachel Goodman (3L), Legal Resources Centre (LRC), Johannesburg
  • Jessica Halperin (2L), Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Johannesburg 
  • Naomi Young (’18), Centre for Law and Society, University of Cape Town



For more information about the role of Paul, Weiss and SAFE, and to read a letter Mandela wrote to Ted Sorensen preserved in the firm’s archives, visit the Alumni story featured second on the Paul, Weiss website

For additional information about SAFE, see “As Mandela Arrives, Elections Fund Starts $10 Million Corporate Drive.”

Hear Ted Sorensen speak about SAFE as one of the high points of his international law practice, visit “The Last Word.” 

For information on how to become involved with the Sorensen Center or to support Sorensen Center programs in New York, South Africa, and around the world, contact: Camille Massey, Founding Executive Director, at