February 11th marks 21 years since Nelson Mandela was released from imprisonment in South Africa.
This was a hugely significant event as it signified an end to the country’s system of segregation, known as Apartheid.
Mandela was a black African and member of the African National Congress, who pursued an end to the white supremacy and institutionalized racism that existed there via political means. However, following a massacre of protestors by police at Sharpeville in 1960, and the banning of the ANC, Nelson Mandela helped to organize a paramilitary branch of the party called Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) that would wage a terror campaign focusing on government offices that were symbolic to Apartheid.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5s8xkjG8bx4&w=480&h=390]
Mandela went into hiding but was arrested and tried. Famously, in his closing statement he revealed his commitment to equality and freedom, his struggle against white or black domination and his willingness to die for that cause. He was found guilty on charges including sabotage and conspiracy but avoided execution.
Imprisoned on Robben Island, Mandela carried out hard labor, but his reputation, and international pressure on the South African government, grew. His spirit remained unbroken, he led a disobediance campaign for improved conditions at the notoriously brutal jail, and studied law through the University of London from his cell. He was offered a conditional release by President P W Botha. He refused the offer, because he believed he could not renounce violence until significant changes were made to the conditions his people were enduring.
His notoriety continued to grow around the world and attention focused upon the serious violations of human rights that were occurring. South Africa was subject to trade sanctions and banned from many international sporting events.
After the president suffered a stroke the incoming F W deKlerk announced a lifting of the ban on the ANC in February 1990, and that Mandela would shortly be released. The release, on February 11th of that year, was broadcast around the world.
He later acted to ensure that the records of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, set up to hear the testimony of victims and perpetrators of human rights violations, included evidence of violations by the ANC during their campaign of violence – which he insisted was a necessary last resort.
Mandela became leader of the new ANC and in the country’s first multi-racial elections in 1994, was elected president. He was a joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with de Klerk. He continues to work towards unity between races even after his retirement in 1999, has been heavily involved in the campaign to stop the spread of AIDS and will turn 93 in July of this year.
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- Nelson Mandela’s Spear of the Nation: the ANC’s armed resistance (telegraph.co.uk)
- A Day That Shook The World: Nelson Mandela freed (independent.co.uk)
- Timeline: South Africa’s journey to freedom (telegraph.co.uk)
- Nelson Mandela: from village boy to world great – Telegraph.co.uk (news.google.com)
- Nelson Mandela, 92, admitted to hospital (msnbc.msn.com)