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25 Years Ago Nelson Mandela Walked Into Freedom

Remembering that day and the work of the extraordinary leader.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

On February 11, 1990, after serving 27 years Nelson Mandela walked out of prison after and addressed the crowd of a 100,000 black South Africans waiting for him, saying:


“Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans.

I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.

I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.

On this day of my release, I extend my sincere and warmest gratitude to the millions of my compatriots and those in every corner of the globe who have campaigned tirelessly for my release.”

Mandela’s release was widely heralded as the beginning of a new era in South Africa, a country that had struggled with race issues since the formal establishment of apartheid in 1948. In 1994, Mandela was elected South Africa's first black chief executive, and he was the first elected in a fully representative democratic election, prior to that election blacks had been barred from voting. During his presidency, Mandela worked hard to dismantle the apartheid system and foster the development of a multiracial democracy and society.

Mandela encouraged black South Africans to support the largely hated Springboks, the country’s national rugby team which was predominantly white and represented white supremacy to many blacks. The events leading up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup were the inspiration behind the 2009 film Invictus, and South Africa’s win over New Zealand in the final was seen as a major step towards reconciliation between blacks and whites.

Mandela stepped down as president in 1999 after serving one term, to “help ensure that future leaders would feel pressure not to stay on long, as many African presidents do. He wasn't just bringing his ideals to South Africa, but proving to the world that liberation movements, present and future, really could be all that they promised,” according to the Washington Post.

While in retirement, Mandela still remained active in South African politics and world affair, and he founded the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which focused on rural development, school construction, and combating HIV/AIDS.

Mandela won more than 250 awards in his life, including the Soviet Order of Lenin in 1990, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.