Nelson Mandela became an activist in the anti-apartheid movement in his twenties, joining the African National Congress in 1942. He went on to direct a campaign of peaceful, nonviolent defiance against the South African government and its racist policies for 20 years.
As these tactics lost effectiveness, Mandela began to believe that armed struggle was the only way to achieve change. In 1963, he was sentenced to life in prison. Despite multiple arrests for his political offenses culminating in a total of 27 years in prison, Mandela earned a law degree from the University of London via a correspondence program.
Mandela continued to be such a potent symbol of black resistance that, in the 1980s, a coordinated international campaign was launched to petition for his release. He used the increasing local and international pressure for his release as a bargaining tool to obtain equal rights, such as full citizenship, redistribution of land, trade union rights, and free and compulsory education for all children.
In 1990, Mandela was released from prison and continued to negotiate with President F.W. de Klerk toward the country’s first multiracial elections. The negotiations were often strained, and news of violent eruptions continued throughout the country. Mandela had to keep a delicate balance of political pressure and intense negotiations amid the demonstrations and armed resistance.
In 1993, Mandela and President de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work toward dismantling apartheid. Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the country’s first black president on May 10, 1994, at the age of 77, with de Klerk as his first deputy.