Jul 10, 2013

February 11, 1990: Nelson Mandela Walks to Freedom

South African black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela , who spent 27 years in jail for his efforts to end white minority rule, was freed on February 11, 1990. During his years in prison , Mandela had helped focus worldwide attention on the struggle for racial equality in South Africa.

Blacks outnumber whites in South Africa by more than five to one, but whites ruled the country since its early days, until 1994. In 1948, apartheid - "separateness" -- became the government's official policy. Everyone was classified according to race. This classification determined who could vote, where people could live, which schools they could attend. The main goals of Mandela and many other people, including his fellow members of the African National Congress (ANC), were to end apartheid and establish black majority rule.

Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, into a royal family of the Xhosa. He received a law degree from the University of South Africa in 1942 and later helped set up South Africa 's first black law firm. In 1944 he was one of the founders of the ANC Youth League, a group that became a leading force in protests against the government. He was arrested twice for his protest activities in the 1950's. In 1960, the government banned the ANC and other black protest groups. But Mandela continued his crusade, helping to form a military wing of the ANC and begin a guerrilla campaign. He was arrested in 1962 and, two years later, sentenced to life in prison for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Even in prison, however, Mandela continued his opposition to the government. His dedication helped bring international pressure on South Africa to free political prisoners and end apartheid. The government finally began to move in this direction in 1989. The ANC and other black protest groups were legalized a week before Mandela's release.

Out of jail at last, the 71-year-old Mandela faced a difficult task: to work with both black and white leaders to find a solution to the racial strife that had long divided his country. (Grolier New Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia)