With much of the world watching on television, Nelson Mandela and wife Winnie walk hand in hand and raise clenched fists upon his release from Victor prison, Cape Town, on Sunday, February 11, 1990.
Nelson Mandela addressed a crowd of about 15,000 from the balcony of Amsterdam’s city theater on June 16, 1990. On the left, seen from the back, is his wife Winnie. Then the deputy president of the African National Congress, Mandela was on a 13-nation, six-week Freedom Tour to thank international supporters of the anti-apartheid movement and appeal to the global community to maintain their sanctions against South Africa.
Mandela Visits His Prison Cell
On the fourth anniversary of his release, Nelson Mandela looks out the window of his former cell in Robben Island Prison. He was held as a political prisoner by the apartheid-based government from 1964 to 1990. The cell has been preserved and has become a popular destination for tourists.
South Africa’s First Multiracial National Election
Lines of people wait in the dawn light to vote in the election that resulted in Nelson Mandela’s election as President of South Africa. The three-day voting period, April 26-29, 1994, marked the first time that adult South Africans of all races could vote for representatives to the national Parliament and provincial legislatures. The African National Congress won by a landslide, and April 27, Freedom Day, is now a public holiday.
Celebrating Mandela’s Election
South Africans partied through the night when the official results of the April 1994 election were released, after Mandela and other party leaders had spent hours behind closed doors reviewing allegations of fraud and other issues. But there was no doubting the result: More than 60 percent of the votes had been cast for the African National Congress, and Nelson Mandela was the President-elect of a new democratic South Africa.
Mandela in Retirement
In this 2007 photo, former South African President Nelson Mandela reacts as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, waves farewell after a meeting at the Nelson Mandela Foundation building in Johannesburg.
Mandela continued to receive heads of state for years after he stepped down as South Africa’s first post-apartheid president. In recent years he spent most of his time in seclusion with his family, occasionally appearing in public for a major national event. Mandela started ailing as he entered his nineties and was repeatedly admitted to hospital to treat a recurring lung infection.
A Free Man
Nelson Mandela, the civil rights leader who rose from a small village in rural, apartheid-era South Africa to become the country’s first black President, died on Thursday at age 95. Mandela’s election in 1994 ended three centuries of European domination of indigenous African people of the region.
Mandela, pictured here in 2006, had been released from prison in 1990 after serving 27 years for his attempts to overthrow the white minority government in the 1960s. He won the Nobel Peace Prize and other honors for his leadership of the peaceful transition to democracy in South Africa.
When Mandela arrived at the Cape Town City Hall after his release, a crowd of 50,000 supporters had assembled to hear his first words in public in over a quarter century. “Our struggle has reached a decisive moment,” he said, in an event broadcast around the world. “Our march to freedom is irreversible.”
The lawyer and anti-apartheid activist had been convicted of treason and sabotage in June 1964 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent most of his sentence on Robben Island, off Cape Town, doing hard labor. During the 1980s he refused many offers for early release from the government because of the conditions attached.
But on February 2, 1990, South African President F. W. de Klerk reversed the ban on the African National Congress (ANC) and other anti-apartheid organizations, announcing that Mandela would be released. It was the beginning of the opening up of apartheid-era South Africa, in which blacks faced severe discrimination.
In the first national elections in which blacks had the right to vote, the ANC won and Mandela became President. He remained in that office until 1999.
Nelson Mandela was born into a royal family of the Xhosa nation, one of the largest ethnic groups in South Africa. Xhosa young men, such as those in this photograph, undergo a rite of initiation that involves isolation from their families during which they receive instruction by elder men, followed by circumcision, which continues to be practiced in many parts of central and southern Africa. Initiates are thereafter considered to be adult men. Mandela recalled his initiation in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.
South Africa in Flames
In this September 15, 1990, photo, the burning body of a man identified as a Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party supporter is clubbed by followers of the rival African National Congress during factional violence in Soweto, South Africa.
In the run-up to the 1994 elections that brought Nelson Mandela to power, many South Africans were fearful about the rising violence, particularly between rival ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party factions. Aggression and bombings by white supremacists hoping to spark a race war to stave off black majority rule were also a concern.
Mandela campaigned indefatigably, appealing to people to throw their weapons into the sea, and demanding that the last white President, F. W. de Klerk, get tough on recalcitrant officers in the police and security forces.
Against all odds, the party of Nelson Mandela transformed a nation where just 20 years before black South Africans could not vote, and where public amenities like buses, trains, beaches, and restaurants were segregated racially. Following the electoral victory of the ANC, Mandela worked hard to defuse racial tensions by including Inkatha leaders in his Cabinet and reaching out to white right-wing leaders. Political violence simmered down.
Winnie Mandela, wife of Nelson Mandela, raises a clenched fist after appearing at a Johannesburg magistrate’s court in December 1986. Mrs. Mandela had been held by police in Soweto the previous day for defying an order banning her presence there.
She became a political leader in her own right during her husband’s long stint in prison. But her leadership style and some of her associates made her a controversial figure, especially after a youth staying in her house was beaten to death in mysterious circumstances.
Mandela’s Prison Cell
Nelson Mandela’s former prison cell (cell 5 in B-section in the political prisoners area) on Robben Island, off Cape Town. Conditions were spartan in the tiny cell; the bed was a mat on the floor. For years after he was released, even when he was President of South Africa, Mandela continued to make his own bed each morning, as he did in prison.
The Robben Island prison was where the South African government incarcerated its most high-profile political prisoners. Mail to and from the facility was screened and censored, and only occasional visitors were allowed. Mandela and others used communal lavatories and showers. They spent much of their day at hard labor, including breaking rocks in a lime quarry on the island, where the glare and dust caused damage to Mandela’s eyes.
Robben Island’s political prisoners organized themselves, negotiating for better conditions with the authorities and establishing their own rules of behavior among themselves. They also shared their education with one another. While in prison, Mandela secretly wrote much of his autobiography, which was smuggled out by released prisoners.