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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.”