THIS DAY IN HISTORY
Nelson Mandela was released from prison
Nelson Mandela, leader of the movement to end South African apartheid, is released from prison after 27 years on February 11, 1990.
In 1944, Mandela, a lawyer, joined the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest Black political organization in South Africa, where he became a leader of Johannesburg’s youth wing of the ANC.
In 1952, he became deputy national president of the ANC, advocating nonviolent resistance to apartheid—South Africa’s institutionalized system of white supremacy and racial segregation. However, after the massacre of peaceful Black demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960, Nelson helped organize a paramilitary branch of the ANC to engage in guerrilla warfare against the white minority government.
In 1961, he was arrested for treason, and although acquitted he was arrested again in 1962 for illegally leaving the country. Convicted and sentenced to five years at Robben Island Prison, he was put on trial again in 1964 on charges of sabotage. In June 1964, he was convicted along with several other ANC leaders and sentenced to life in prison.
Mandela spent the first 18 of his 27 years in jail at the brutal Robben Island Prison.
Confined to a small cell without a bed or plumbing, he was forced to do hard labor in a quarry.
He could write and receive a letter once every six months, and once a year he was allowed to meet with a visitor for 30 minutes.
However, Mandela’s resolve remained unbroken, and while remaining the symbolic leader of the anti-apartheid movement, he led a movement of civil disobedience at the prison that coerced South African officials into drastically improving conditions on Robben Island.
He was later moved to another location, where he lived under house arrest.
In the 1970s when visiting South Africa, now US President Joe Biden during his campaign in 2020 claimed he was arrested for attempting to visit Mandela.
Biden – at the time a senator for Delaware – said he had been visiting the country with a delegation of American officials and had planned to visit Mandela in prison.
But during the trip, Biden said he had “had the great honor of being arrested with our UN ambassador on the streets of Soweto” while trying to reach the civil rights leader on Robben Island.
The town of Soweto is more than 760 miles (1,223km) from Robben Island.
At a black history awards brunch in Las Vegas, he also said Mandela had thanked him for his efforts.
“He threw his arms around me and said, ‘I want to say thank you,'” Biden told onlookers. “I said, ‘What are you thanking me for, Mr. President?’ He said: ‘You tried to see me. You got arrested trying to see me.'”
Biden’s account of what happened has been rebuffed by Andrew Young, the US ambassador to the UN at the time, who says he traveled with Biden to South Africa.
Local media have also failed to find any evidence of an arrest being made.
Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, told reporters Biden had been referring to an incident when “he was separated from his party at Johannesburg airport”.
When a journalist noted that being separated did not equate with an arrest, Ms. Bedingfield repeated that it had been a “separation”.
In 1989, F.W. de Klerk became South African president and set about dismantling apartheid.
De Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC, suspended executions, and in February 1990 ordered the release of Nelson Mandela.
Mandela subsequently led the ANC in its negotiations with the minority government for an end to apartheid and the establishment of a multiracial government.
In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
One year later, the ANC won an electoral majority in the country’s first free elections, and Mandela was elected South Africa’s president.
Mandela retired from politics in 1999, but remained a global advocate for peace and social justice until his death in December 2013.
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