On Feb. 11, 1990, after 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela was released by South African authorities.
Mandela had joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944, becoming deputy national president of the group in 1952. Arrested for treason in 1961, he was acquitted — but then 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. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison along with several other ANC leaders.
In 1989, F.W. de Klerk became South African president and began 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 negotiating 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 the country’s first free elections, and Mandela was elected South Africa’s president.