On this day in 1990, Nelson Mandela, famous for his position as the leader of the movement to end South African apartheid, was released from prison after 27 years.
Mandela was first arrested in 1961 for treason; while he was acquitted, he was arrested again 1962 for illegally leaving the country and was sentenced to five years in Robben Island Prison. Only two years later, in 1964, he was put on trial for sabotage, and was convicted along with several other leaders in the African National Congress (ANC); this time Mandela was sentenced to life in prison.
The first 18 years of Mandela’s imprisonment was held at Robben Island Prison, which was known for it’s brutal conditions, including cells without bed or plumbing, hard labour, and extremely limited contact with anyone on the outside. While remaining a symbolic leader of the anti-apartheid movement, he also led a movement of civil disobedience at the prison that lead to conditions being drastically improved.
Following the election of F.W de Klerk as the President of South Africa in 1989, apartheid in the country began to be dismantled. In 1990, de Klerk ordered the release of Mandela, and returning to his role in the ANC, they worked with the minority government to negotiate for an end to apartheid.
In 1993, Mandela won a Noble Peace Prize, jointly, with de Klerk and one year later the ANC won an election, making Mandela the president of South Africa.
While Mandela’s official political career ended in 1999, he remained a figure in many conversations involving social justice up until his death in 2013, and he will always be remembered for the key roles that he played in moving South Africa forward.