This Day in History (11-Feb-1990) – Nelson Mandela is released from Victor Verster Prison near Cape Town, South Africa after 27 years behind bars

In 1944, Nelson Mandela joined African National Congress and led civil disobedience movement of 1952. In 1961 he led the armed struggle with series of explosions in December. In January 1962, he secretly left South Africa and travelled around Africa and visited England to gain support for the armed struggle. He received military training in Morocco and Ethiopia and returned to South Africa in July 1962. He was arrested in a police roadblock and was charged with leaving the country without a permit and inciting workers to strike. He was convicted and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. In October 1963 Nelson Mandela was brought to trial again for sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial. Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison over his calls for a colorblind South Africa. He ended up serving 27 years behind bars.

During this time, he contracted tuberculosis and, as a black political prisoner, received the lowest level of treatment from prison workers. However, he  was able to earn a Bachelor of Law degree through a University of London correspondence program. In 1985, President P.W. Botha offered Mandela’s release in exchange for renouncing armed struggle; the prisoner flatly rejected the offer. With increasing local and international pressure for his release, the government participated in several talks with Mandela over the ensuing years, but no deal was made. When Botha was replaced by Frederik Willem de Klerk, Mandela’s release was finally announced. De Klerk also unbanned the ANC, removed restrictions on political groups and suspended executions.

Hours after his release on Feb. 11, 1990, Mandela vowed to end apartheid (South Africa’s racial policy) once and for all, telling a roaring crowd: “Today, the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our decisive mass action. We have waited too long for our freedom.” Under Mandela’s leadership, apartheid was gradually dismantled over the next several years. A symbol of global peacemaking, Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He became the first black president of South Africa in 1994, serving until 1999.



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