On this day in 1994, South Africa’s newly elected parliament chose Nelson Mandela (books by this author) as the country’s first democratically elected president. More than 22 million South Africans had voted in the election, the first time that black citizens had been allowed to participate. Mandela was the overwhelming winner.
Before his election day win, Mandela served nearly 30 years of his life as a political prisoner of the South African government under apartheid. As a leader of the African National Congress party, Mandela had long resisted the racist Nationalist government via peaceful demonstrations, boycotts, and acts of civil disobedience. When he organized a paramilitary group to further resist after the government’s massacre of peaceful black activists, he was charged with treason and eventually sentenced to life in prison.
Mandela spent the majority of his sentence in a small cell without a bed or plumbing. He worked in a quarry, and was allowed to write and receive only one letter every six months. His visitations were limited to 30 minutes per year. Even in prison, he led a movement of civil disobedience that resulted in officials improving the facility’s conditions for inmates.
Mandela served as South Africa’s president from 1994 until 1999, though he was politically active all the way up to his death in 2013 at the age of 95.