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February 11th 1990: Mandela released

On this day in 1990, the South African activist and politician Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Mandela had spent twenty-seven years in prison for his role as an anti-apartheid activist at the head of Umkhonto we Sizwe, which translates as Spear of the Nation. The controversial organisation served as the militant armed wing of the African National Congress political party, born out of a frustration among anti-apartheid activists that their non-violence was met with brutality by white authorities against black citizens. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison, during which time he was largely condemned as a terrorist by Western nations. He served most of his twenty-seven years on Robben Island, then Victor Verster Prison near Cape Town, and during his imprisonment his reputation grew as a significant black leader both in South Africa and internationally. Mandela was finally freed after the ban on the ANC was lifted by the apartheid government. Upon his release, Mandela led the ANC in the successful negotiations with President F.W. de Klerk to end apartheid, and was overwhelmingly elected President of South Africa in the first multi-racial elections in 1994, serving until 1999. In 2013, Nelson Mandela died aged 95 and has been mourned around the world as a hero who fought for freedom in South Africa, and as a symbol of resistance for oppressed peoples everywhere.

“Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way.”

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August 5th 1962: Nelson Mandela arrested

On this day in 1962, the famous South African activist Nelson Mandela was arrested. Mandela was previously arrested in 1956 on treason charges, but was acquitted and forced underground for several years. In 1961, Mandela helped to found Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), which served as the militant armed wing of the African National Congress political party, born out of frustration among anti-apartheid activists that their non-violence was met with brutality by white authorities against black citizens. He was arrested in August 1962 for inciting a workers’ strike and leaving the country illegally, and in November was sentenced to five years in prison, despite protests from anti-apartheid activists. A year later, authorities found more evidence of Mandela’s involvement in the violence of Umkhonto we Sizwe, and his sentence was increased to life imprisonment, avoiding a death sentence. While imprisoned on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela was largely condemned as a terrorist by Western nations, and he spent his time in jail performing hard labour. By the 1980s, a movement campaigning for his release was gaining traction, and Mandela’s reputation grew as a significant black leader both in South Africa and internationally. After twenty-seven years in prison, Mandela was finally freed in 1990, after the ban on the ANC was lifted by the government of President F.W. de Klerk, who was beginning to dismantle apartheid. Upon his release, Mandela led the ANC in the successful negotiations with President de Klerk to end apartheid, and was overwhelmingly elected President of South Africa in the first multi-racial elections in 1994, serving until 1999.

“When my sentence has been completed I will still be moved, as men are always moved, by their consciences; I will still be moved by my dislike of the race discrimination against my people when I come out from serving my sentence, to take up again, as best I can, the struggle for the removal of those injustices until they are finally abolished once and for all”
- Mandela during his 1962 trial