Nelson Mandela Freed from Prison

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In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, after serving a harsh sentence for speaking his mind on the racial policies of his country's government.

He arrived on Robben Island in 1964. He was forced into a small cell, in which was only a bucket. (He slept on the floor.) He was allowed to write and receive one letter every six months. He could have only one a visitor a year, for a total time of 30 minutes.

He served 18 of his 27 years of prison term on Robben Island. During that time, his followers were forbidden from speaking his name or displaying his image. For those who didn't know him very well, it seemed like the end of the line.

It was a line that began in his tribal upbringing, tracing through his vocalist days in the 1950s (during which he was arrested and imprisoned) and his incognito days of the 1960s (when the African National Congress was banned). Indeed, he was called "The Black Pimpernel" for his ability to evade capture.

But 1964 saw him forced into imprisonment. Rather than dwell on his fate, Mandela helped his fellow prisoners to educate themselves and resist cruelty with dignity. In quiet moments, when they weren't working, the inmates studied many subjects, including the arts. They even put on plays.

Mandela's example was a symbol of dignity and faith in humankind. Partly because of his example and partly because of the weight of world opinion, Mandela began negotiating with South African President F.W. deKlerk in 1990. They discussed Mandela's release and the dismantling of apartheid, the system that had kept Mandela and his fellow Black Africans oppressed for so long.

And on February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela emerged a free man.

Since that time, he has served as president of South Africa, an occupation that he hardly dared hope to have 30 years before. Apartheid is no more in South Africa, thanks in large part to the efforts of Nelson Mandela.

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David White