10 May 1994: Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa. Born in 1918, he studied law and set up a legal practice in Johannesburg. He became an active member of the ANC (African National Congress), campaigning vigorously against apartheid, and in 1964 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for various offences including treason and sabotage. Facing the death penalty on 20 April 1964, Mandela said, “I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people …. I have cherished the ideals of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realized.”
There was a worldwide campaign for Mandela’s release and this was eventually granted in 1990 by President F W de Klerk who had already begun to dismantle the apartheid system. In 1993, the pair were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their reforms.
The 1994 election was the first democratic election in the country’s history and the ANC won 252 of the 400 seats. After his inauguration ceremony in Pretoria, Mandela addressed the crowds vowing that “never again will this beautiful land experience the oppression of one by another”. He retired from the presidency in 1999, declining to run for a second term, but remained active in international affairs.