On this day in 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years.
Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1944 and advocated for non-violent civil resistance. However, after the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, in which peaceful demonstrators were murdered by the apartheid government, Mandela and others within the ANC began to advocate armed resistance.
By that time deputy national president of the ANC, Mandela helped to form Spear of the Nation, known as MK for its African language initials, the armed wing of the Congress.
In 1961, Mandela was arrested on treason charges, acquitted, and then, in 1962, arrested for illegally leaving the country. He was sentenced to five years at Robben Island, and then was put on trial again in 1964. After that trial, he was sentenced to life.
His conditions at Robben Island were brutal. Confined to a cell with no bed or toilet, Mandela did hard labor. He was allowed 30 minutes of visitation – per year – and was allowed a letter every six months.
After 18 years, he was sent to another location, then house arrest. By 1989, the entire world was opposed to apartheid, and a transnational network has pressed even the Reagan administration to impose sanctions on the apartheid state. That year, F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid ruler of South Africa, became president. He released Mandela in 1990.
The end of apartheid was underway. A few years later, South Africa held the nation’s first-ever free elections, and Mandela’s ANC, along with its Communist Party and trade union allies, overwhelmingly won the elections.
Photo: Former South African President Nelson Mandela. Elmond Jiyane, GCIS/AP