Nelson Mandela Marks 20 Years Of Freedom

Twenty years ago Thursday, Nelson Mandela was released from a South African prison. Mandela had spent 27 years in prison for his part in the struggle against apartheid. Mandela went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and became South Africa's first black president.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And in South Africa today, people are celebrating the most optimistic moment in that country's history. It was 20 years ago that Nelson Mandela took the last steps on what he came to call his long walk to freedom.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. NELSON MANDELA: On this day of my release, I extend my sincere and warmest gratitude to the millions of my compatriots and those in every corner of the globe...

MONTAGNE: Mandela had spent 27 years in prison for his part in the struggle against apartheid. As a leader of the African National Congress, he, along with his ANC comrades, was convicted of sabotage. Mandela was spared a death sentence, but you'll hear in a scratchy recording from that 1964 trial, Mandela spoke eloquently about what he was willing to sacrifice to realize his dream for his country.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. MANDELA: I have challenged the idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an idea for which I hope to live for, but if it needs be, it is an idea for which I am prepared to die.

MONTAGNE: Mandela began his life as a prisoner, breaking rocks in a limestone quarry, on Capetown's notorious Robben Island. When Mandela and his fellow political prisoners were given time together, they created a garden and an intellectual community they dubbed Robben Island University.

By the mid-1980s, the apartheid government was making contact with its imprisoned enemy. Finally, after years of negotiation, after his fellow political prisoners were released and a ban was lifted against the ANC, Nelson Mandela emerged from prison and spoke to hundreds of thousands who'd gathered outside a balcony at Capetown's city hall.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. MANDELA: Today, the majority of South Africa, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future.

(Soundbite of cheering)

MONTAGNE: He went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and become South Africa's first black president. And Nelson Mandela, now 91 years old, will join in the festivities today marking his historic release.

(Soundbite of song)

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