Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa in 1994. He is the country’s first black president. He was elected by the country’s National Assembly. The Assembly had been chosen in South Africa’s first elections in which the country’s blacks were allowed to vote. Blacks won a majority of the Assembly seats, and the Assembly selected Mandela as president. These developments marked the beginning of a new era in South Africa. They resulted in blacks gaining control of the government after a long period of domination by the white minority.
Since 1991, Mandela had served as president of the African National Congress (ANC), a largely black group that opposed the South African government’s policy of rigid racial segregation called apartheid(Connolly 2000, 45). He had long been a leader of protests against apartheid and was imprisoned in 1962 on charges of conspiring to overthrow the white-minority government. While in prison, he became a symbol of the struggle for racial justice. After being freed in 1990, he led negotiations with white leaders that eventually brought an end to apartheid and established a nonracial system of government(Katz 1995, 103).
Mandela and then-President F. W. de Klerk of South Africa won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. They were honored for their work to end apartheid and to enable the country’s nonwhites to fully participate in government(Dell 1995, 180).
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Umtata, in the Transkei territory of South Africa. His father was a chief of the Xhosa-speaking Tembu tribe. Mandela gave up his right to succeed his father and instead prepared for a legal career. He attended the University College of Fort Hare, studied law by correspondence at Witwatersrand University, and received a law degree from the University of South Africa in 1942. That year, in Soweto, he and a friend opened the first black law partnership in South Africa(Conolly 2000, 99).
Mandela joined the ANC in 1944 and helped form the organization’s Youth League. In 1948, the South African government established its policy of apartheid. The ANC called for equality for all races and began leading open resistance to the government. In 1956, the government charged Mandela with treason and other serious crimes, but he was found not guilty in 1961. The government had outlawed the ANC in 1960, but Mandela renewed the protests and went into hiding. One night in 1963 Nelson and Winnie were awakened by the South African police.(Derenberg 1991, 104). The police took Nelson away to jail. . He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Nelson was sent to Robben Island. That was the state’s most guarded prison, ships couldn’t come near it. It was considered a prison that no one could escape from.
In 1983 and 1984 headlines started saying things like FREE MANDELA and LET MANDELA GO. People wanted to free Nelson so much that the whole world started to notice. Soon the United States and Great Britain were naming streets and parks after him. Human rights groups and universities were giving him honors and awards(Conolly 2000, 155). In 1984 a reporter was allowed to see Nelson for the first time.
Nelson was offered his freedom in 1985 by president Botha, but Nelson refused it. Botha said that in order to go free Nelson had to agree to a lot of conditions: he had to live in the transkei and formally reject violence, among others. Nelson refused(Steoff 1990 168).
In 1989 F.W. de Klerk became the president of South Africa instead of Botha. In 1990 de Klerk made some amazing statements: The ANC and sixty other organizations would be allowed to operate legally. Restrictions on three hundred and seventy-four people would be lifted. There would be a temporary halt to executions. The national state of emergency would soon be lifted. The government was committed to implementing a new constitution with no domination. And “I am now in a position to announce that Mr. Nelson Mandela will be released at Victor Verster Prison. . . . We would like Mr. Mandela’s release to take place in a dignified and orderly manner”(Derenberg 1991, 190).
On Sunday the 11th of February 1990 at 4:15 Nelson Mandela was finally free. He had been in jail for 27 years.
After leaving prison, Mandela agreed to suspend an armed struggle the ANC had been waging against the South African government. Over the objections of more radical ANC members, he urged conciliation with South African President de Klerk and other government leaders. He sought to obtain political power for the country’s blacks in a peaceful way(Katz 1995, 99).
In 1990 and 1991, the government repealed the laws that formed the legal basis of apartheid. But Mandela also negotiated an end to other forms of racial injustice, including laws that denied blacks the right to vote in national and provincial elections. The first truly open national elections in which all races could vote were held in April 1994. The ANC won a majority of the seats in the country’s National Assembly, and Mandela became president(Conolly 2000, 145).
After his release in 1990 he played a pivotal role as ANC president in negotiating the end of apartheid. In 1993 he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with South African President F.W. de Clerk and a year later, at age 75, was elected president himself. On Dec. 10, 1996 — amid chants of “Power to the people!” — Mandela signed the country’s new constitution, which includes sweeping human-rights and antidiscrimination guarantees.
Mandela stepped down a president in June 1999, having groomed Deputy President Thabo Mbeki as his successor for years. He left behind a country still troubled by racial hatred, crushing poverty and staggering violent crime. But he remains the most revered man in the country, credited with a remarkable transition from tyranny to democracy, and a commitment to reconciliation that saved the country from a violent bloodbath.
After a messy divorce from his high-profile wife Winnie Madikizela in 1996, he married Graca Machel, widow of former Mozambican president Samora Machel, on his 80th birthday in July 1998. Upon his retirement, he said he planned to enjoy the peace and freedom that took a lifetime to achieve, living in his native Eastern Cape village, spending time with his wife and grandchildren and writing his memoirs(Conolly 2000, 199).