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Nelson Mandela Freed - History

Nelson Mandela Freed - History

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Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress, was released after spending 27 years behind prison walls. Mandela was released by President F.W. DeKlerk as the first step in the creation of a multi-racial democracy.

Nelson Mandela writes from prison

In South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) makes public a statement by Nelson Mandela, the long imprisoned leader of the anti-apartheid movement. The message, smuggled out of Robben Island prison under great risk, read, “UNITE! MOBILISE! FIGHT ON! BETWEEN THE ANVIL OF UNITED MASS ACTION AND THE HAMMER OF THE ARMED STRUGGLE WE SHALL CRUSH APARTHEID!”

Mandela, born in 1918, was the son of the chief of the Xhosa-speaking Tembu people. Instead of succeeding his father as chief, Mandela went to university and became a lawyer. In 1944, he joined the ANC, a Black political organization dedicated to winning rights for the Black majority in white-ruled South Africa. In 1948, the racist National Party came to power, and apartheid—South Africa’s institutionalized system of white supremacy and racial segregation�me official government policy. With the loss of Black rights under apartheid, Black enrollment in the ANC rapidly grew. Mandela became one of the ANC’s leaders and in 1952 was made deputy national president of the ANC. He organized nonviolent strikes, boycotts, marches, and other acts of civil disobedience.

After the massacre of peaceful Black demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960, Mandela helped organize a paramilitary branch of the ANC to engage in acts of sabotage against the white minority government. He was tried for and acquitted of treason in 1961 but in 1962 was arrested again for illegally leaving the country. Convicted and sentenced to five years at Robben Island Prison, he was put on trial again in 1963 with seven other ANC members who were arrested at Rivonia in possession of a store of weapons. Charged with sabotage, treason, and violent conspiracy, Mandela admitted to many of the charges against him and eloquently defended his militant activities during the trial. On June 12, 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mandela spent the first 18 of his 27 years in jail at the brutal Robben Island prison. He was confined to a small cell without a bed or plumbing and was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. Once a year, he was allowed to meet with a visitor for 30 minutes, and once every six months he could write and receive a letter. At first, he was only allowed to exchange letters with his family, and these letters were read and censored by prison officials. Later he was allowed to write to friends and associates, but any writing of a political nature was forbidden. With the help of fellow prisoners and his visitors, Mandela smuggled out statements and letters to spark the continuing anti-apartheid movement. A 500-page autobiography, manually miniaturized into 50 pages, was smuggled out by a departing prisoner in 1976. The original manuscript of the autobiography, buried in a garden, was discovered by the prison warden soon after. As punishment, Mandela and three others lost their study rights for four years.

Through it all, Mandela’s resolve remained unbroken, and he led a movement of civil disobedience at the prison that coerced South African officials into drastically improving conditions on Robben Island. In 1982, he was moved to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland, and in 1988 to a cottage, where he lived under house arrest.

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 on February 11, 1990, ordered the release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years as a political prisoner. 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. On April 26, 1994, more than 22 million South Africans turned out to cast ballots in the country’s first-ever multiracial parliamentary elections. An overwhelming majority chose Mandela and the ANC to lead the country, and a “national unity” coalition was formed with de Klerk’s National Party and the Zulus’ Inkatha Freedom Party. On May 10, Mandela was sworn in as the first Black president of South Africa.

As president, Mandela established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights violations under apartheid and introduced numerous initiatives designed to improve the living standards of South Africa’s Black population. In 1996, he presided over the enactment of a new South African constitution. Mandela retired from politics in June 1999 at the age of 80. He was succeeded as president by Thabo Mbeki of the ANC. Mandela, admired by people around the world, continued to advocate for human rights and peace until his death in December 2013.

Free Mandela: the song that danced its way into history

It was a simple song that packed a mighty punch, a masterstroke of music and politics, wrapped up in four glorious minutes of ska-infused beats from the pen of Jerry Dammers, of the UK group The Specials.

The spirited and defiant lyrics were a clarion call to release one man from jail and an entire nation from the shackles of Apartheid.

In the early 1980s, as anti-Apartheid campaigns slowly moved out of Africa and onto the streets of London, Dammers found a cause célèbre in South Africa's most famous political prisoner.

By then, Nelson Mandela had already served 20 years on charges of sabotage and attempting to overthrow the South African government, and Dammers, whoɽ cut his musical teeth in the punk/ska anti-establishment ethos of conservative Britain in the late 1970s, gave a voice to a struggle that turned into a juggernaut.

It was one 7-inch single against a brutal regime:

Twenty-one years in captivity

His body abused but his mind is still free

Are you so blind that you cannot see

Suddenly the campaign for Nelson Mandela's release from Robben Island jail was dancing its way into the UK Top 10. In Australia, it was a high rotation favourite on triple j and community radio stations from the east coast to the west. All around the world, radio stations fuelled the fervour. And in South Africa, it became a clandestine anthem of hope.

It was 1984. A black and white photo of a youthful and charismatic Nelson Mandela at the peak of his activist powers on the cover of the single helped join the dots to his back-story. This was before the internet, Wikipedia, or Google. Popular culture was a very different-looking beast. The music lit the fuse.

He pleaded the causes of the ANC,

Only one man in a large army

Are you so deaf that you cannot hear his plea?

A man of heroic compromise

Nelson Mandela's goodness was mixed with a steely determination, writes Marius Benson.

Just singing along to those simple, powerful lyrics somehow made us feel we were part of something much bigger than the sum of its parts. We felt invested in the liberty of prisoner number 46664 and convinced the song had helped light the road to freedom.

And when Nelson Mandela finally emerged from his jail cell in 1990 - hand in hand with then-wife Winnie - that song played like an homage to his freedom. It still does. Every time I think of Nelson Mandela's extraordinary story, the man who dismantled Apartheid to become South Africa's first black president, I think of that wonderful, joyful, four-minute single. The two are forever entwined.

For Dammers, however, it had been something of an accidental association: He told Radio Times Magazine in 2008 that:

I knew very little about Mandela until I went to an anti-Apartheid concert in London in 1983, which gave me the idea for "Nelson Mandela". I never knew how much impact the song would have it was a hit around the world, and it got back into South Africa and was played at sporting events and ANC rallies - it became an anthem.

Dammers also recalled finally meeting Mandela after a 1990 concert, which celebrated his release:

When I was introduced as the writer of 'Nelson Mandela,' he just said, ɺh yes, very good.'

Few songs in popular music have spoken so directly of an individual and a cause, and with such a demonstrable outcome, as Dammers' ode to Mandela's liberation.

It is Dammers' triumphant tune that stands alone on that score, a song that rode a wave of change and danced its way into history. I've been playing it. Loudly. From the prized 7-inch single. And Nelson Mandela is young and free on the cover. Forever.

Oh free Nelson Mandela, free Nelson Mandela

I'm begging you, begging you

Please free Nelson Mandela

I'm telling you, you've got to free Nelson Mandela.

Visit News Online's special coverage website to read more reactions to the death of Nelson Mandela.

Tracee Hutchison is a former JJJ presenter who championed the song "Nelson Mandela" in the 1980s. She currently broadcasts Australia/Asia/Pacific for ABC News Radio and Radio Australia. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceehutch. View her full profile here.

Feb. 11th, 1990: Nelson Mandela released from prison

Nelson Mandela, leader of the South African movement to end apartheid, was released from prison on February 11th, 1990 -- 27 years after he was put behind bars.

After marching through the streets, he spoke at Cape Town's City Hall before thousands.

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

CBS News correspondent Bob Simon was there on the historic day of Mandela's release.

"After 27 years, his head high and his fist clenched, Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster Prison like a chief of state flanked by his First Lady, and by the men who'd been hired to protect him," Simon reported.

The South African State Police provided security for Mandela, once the most wanted man in Africa, as he marched and waved to the thousands lining the streets.

Supporters flew the African National Congress (ANC) flag, which was illegal until 10 days before his release. Mandela joined the ANC, South Africa's oldest black political organization, in 1944.

Bob Simon reports on Nelson Mandela's release from prison in Cape Town, South Africa. CBS News

"Hundreds of thousands had come to town, a throbbing crowd of relentless sun. They turned the central square, called Grand Parade, into a dance floor," Simon described. The crowd draped the ANC banner over the mayor's balcony of City Hall.

Nelson Mandela

But the celebrations soon turned violent -- the dancing became stampeding, looting, and vandalism.

"The government insisted it would release Mandela into dignity, but by giving his organization less than 24 hours notice, it created conditions for chaos," explained Simon.

"Police moved in to restore order and opened fire on the people, indiscriminately and often. People replied by hurling bottles. Police opened fire again," Simon continued.

At least two people were reported dead and hundreds more were injured on that day. It wasn't until Mandela appeared on the steps of City Hall to address his supporters that the violence stopped.

Mandela became deputy national president of the ANC in 1952. He advocated for a peaceful movement against South Africa's institutionalized segregation and white supremacy, also known as apartheid.

But the massacre of non-violent demonstrators in 1960 led Mandela and others to organize a group to engage in guerrilla warfare against the government. He was arrested for treason in 1961, acquitted, and arrested again in 1962 on charges of illegally exiting the country. His conviction on that charge led to 5 years in prison.

In 1964, he was charged with sabotage and again convicted, then sentenced to life in prison. It wasn't until 1989, when F.W. de Klerk was elected president of South Africa, that apartheid began to be broken down.

De Klerk called for Mandela's release in 1990, and Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994.

First published on February 11, 2016 / 6:00 AM

© 2016 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Cydney Adams is a senior manager of social media for CBS News. She is also a digital producer focusing on culture and social issues.


Dammers told the Radio Times: "I knew very little about Mandela until I went to an anti apartheid concert in London in 1983, which gave me the idea for 'Nelson Mandela'. I never knew how much impact the song would have it was a hit around the world, and it got back into South Africa and was played at sporting events and ANC rallies, it became an anthem." [3]

Stan Campbell left the band right after the recording of the song and the release of the video for the song, and had to be persuaded to rejoin briefly for two live appearances on the television show by the BBC, Top of the Pops, in 1984. [ citation needed ] Following those appearances, Campbell left for good.

In 1984, the students' union at Wadham College, Oxford, passed a motion to end every college "bop" (dance) with the song. The tradition continues to this day. A Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute remake, released in 1988, featured Elvis Costello, Dave Wakeling, Ranking Roger and Lynval Golding on backing vocals. [ citation needed ]

At the Nelson Mandela 90th Birthday Tribute in London's Hyde Park in June 2008, the song was performed as the show's finale, with Amy Winehouse on lead vocals. However, careful listening to the soundtrack revealed that, instead of "Free Nelson Mandela", she at times sang "Free Blakey, My Fella" (a reference to her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, a former drug dealer imprisoned for assault). [4]

The song was featured on Peter Kay's spoof television programme Britain's Got the Pop Factor. In March 2010, the New Statesman listed it as one of the "Top 20 Political Songs". [5] Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band opened with the song in January 2014, at the Bellville Velodrome in Cape Town, South Africa, [6] in the band's first ever concert in South Africa, which took place just six weeks after Mandela's death. Springsteen later dedicated "We Are Alive" to Mandela.


On 10 May 1994 he was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected President. On his 80 th birthday in 1998 he married Graça Machel, his third wife.

True to his promise, Mandela stepped down in 1999 after one term as President. He continued to work with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund he set up in 1995 and established the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation.

In April 2007 his grandson, Mandla Mandela, was installed as head of the Mvezo Traditional Council at a ceremony at the Mvezo Great Place.

Nelson Mandela never wavered in his devotion to democracy, equality and learning. Despite terrible provocation, he never answered racism with racism. His life is an inspiration to all who are oppressed and deprived and to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation.

He died at his home in Johannesburg on 5 December 2013.

1. Nelson Mandela's father died in 1930 when Mandela was 12 and his mother died in 1968 when he was in prison. While the autobiography Long Walk to Freedom says his father died when he was nine, historical evidence shows it must have been later, most likely 1930. In fact, the original Long Walk to Freedom manuscript (written on Robben Island) states the year as 1930, when he was 12.

In history - Mandela released from prison

On this day in 1990, Nelson Mandela left Victor Verster Prison in Cape Town a free man, after spending 27 years in prison.

Accompanied by his then wife Winnie, Mandela was enthusiastically received by the throngs of people who gathered to see him outside Cape Town’s City Hall.

Mandela spent 18 years on Robben Island and a short period at Pollsmoor Prison before spending the last 14 months of his imprisonment at the Victor Verster Prison, now known as the Drakenstein Correctional Centre.

In June 1964, Madiba and other political activists were sentenced to life in prison.

Upon his release, Mandela was elected president of the ANC. This paved the way for South Africa’s years of peace-making, negotiating, reckoning and transforming.

South Africa’s transition from apartheid ended formally on 27 April 1994 with the first democratic general election.

Madiba’s presidency was about making democracy stick and putting in place the instruments required to transform society fundamentally.

While South Africans should still celebrate the country’s break from colonial and apartheid shackles, his foundation on Monday urged South Africans to go out in their numbers to vote in the 2019 general election set for 8 May.

“For us this has to be about a vote for delivery. We need a leadership at every level of society which holds the promise of the 1990s,” the foundation said in a statement.

In 1999, Madiba stepped down as President and established the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) as his post-presidential office and vehicle for supporting what he regarded as unfinished business.

This Day In History: Nelson Mandela Released from Prison

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Nelson Mandela‘s release from prison, a great day in black history. After spending 27 long and undeserved years behind bars, Mandela, who would go on to become South Africa’s first black president, was released on Feb. 11, 1990.

Mandela was born into a royal family in South Africa on July 18, 1918. At the young age of 9, his father died. Young Nelson was adopted by Jongintaba Dalindyego, who began to teach him about tribal leadership. Nelson became the first in his family to receive a proper education. He completed his studies at a local school, and went on to attend a Methodist secondary school. In 1939 he entered the only Western-style school of higher learning for South Africans at the time, the University of Fort Hare. To avoid an arranged marriage, Mandela ran away to Johannesburg and studied at the University of Witwatersrand.

His loyalty and commitment to political activism grew when he joined the African National Congress, a group in the movement against racial inequality. After the Afrikaner-dominated National Party gained victory in the 1948 election, a strict system of racial classification, also called apartheid, restricted the basic human rights of all people of color, and banned them from participating in government. The ANC designed a campaign against apartheid in 1952, and four years later 155 activists, along with Mandela, were arrested for treason. While they were acquitted in 1961, tensions grew around the ANC, paving the way for the creation of the Pan Africanist Congress (not the Pan-African Congress, a separate and much older organization) became an alternative. A year later, police opened fire on peaceful protestors in Sharpeville, killing 69 people. Riots broke out throughout the country.

Mandela became the first leader of Umkhonot we Sizwe (translated ‘Spear of the Nation’), also referred to by MK, which launched a sabotage campaign against the country’s corrupt government, proclaiming that South Africa would be a separate entity from the British Commonwealth. After illegally attending a conference in Ethiopia, Mandela returned on Aug. 5, 1962 and was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison.

The following year in July, police seized an ANC hiding place in Johannesburg and arrested a group of MK leaders. As evidence began to pour out, fingers pointed at Mandela, identifying him as the leader. Mandela was sentenced to life in prison, his trial drawing new global attention. His first 18 years at Robben Island Prison in Cape Town left him in extreme and cruel conditions. He was confined to a tiny cell without plumbing or a bed. He was forced to perform hard labor, and received only small portions or scraps of food. He was allowed to see his wife only twice each year. But despite the inhumane prison conditions, Mandela’s mental state remained positive and strong. He never once lost hope. He remained the symbol and leader of the anti- apartheid movement, and in 1982, he was relocated to the mainland. In 1989, the triumph began when newly elected President F. W. de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC and called for a nonracist South Africa. A year later on Feb 11, 1990, the president demanded his release. Mandela went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He died on Dec. 5, 2013, of a reoccurring lung infection, but he will always be remembered as one of the most noble, selfless people in history.

Follow updates on this series via social media using #BE28andGreat for the whole month of February.

Nelson Mandela

Alessia Pierdomenico /

Profession: Anti-apartheid activist and South African President

Why Famous: Often referred to as the father of the nation by South Africans, Nelson Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist and politician who served 27 years in prison. After being freed in 1990 he became the President of the African National Congress (1991-97) before being elected the first black President of his country in a fully multiracial election in 1994.

For his activism, he received over 250 honours, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Soviet Order of Lenin.

Born: July 18, 1918
Birthplace: Mvezo, Umtatu, South Africa

Generation: Greatest Generation
Chinese Zodiac: Horse
Star Sign: Cancer

Died: December 5, 2013 (aged 95)
Cause of Death: Lung infection

A Day That Shook The World: Nelson Mandela freed

It will be precisely 21 years tomorrow since Nelson Mandela, ANC leader and freedom fighter, was released from prison.

Having served 27 years on charges of “treason against the state” in the notorious Robben Island and other jails, the man yet to become South African president, was already entering old age at 71.

He spent 18 years on Robben Island toiling in a lime quarry, receiving just one visitor and one letter every 6 months. But despite his incarceration, Mandela’s reputation as an equality fighter grew and grew.

Using the slogan ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ local and international pressure mounted on the South African government to release him. When Frederik Willem de Klerk replaced apartheid-bastion P.W Botha, he secured Mandela’s release.

This footage (above), taken on 11 February 1990, captures the moment Mandela walked free from Victor Verster prison, near Cape Town, one hand clutching his wife Winnie’s, the other making the gesture of black power.

Watch original footage at British Pathe.

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