Free at Last
Mandela walks with his wife Winnie after being released from prison, Feb. 11, 1990.
In 1993, Mandela is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside then South African President F.W. de Klerk, whose rapprochement with Mandela and the ANC helped engineer the end of apartheid.
Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, in the village of Mviza in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. His father was a counselor to a local king. He chose for his son the name Rolihlahla, which translated from Xhosa means literally “pulling a branch off a tree” — or, more colloquially, “troublemaker.” A schoolteacher would confer upon him the name Nelson.
Mandela and other co-defendants appear at the famous Treason Trial in Johannesburg, 1956. Mandela, along with his longtime ally Oliver Thambo and 154 others, was charged with treason. The case, which dragged on for five years, by which time all were acquitted, brought the struggle of the ANC to international attention.
Mandela, center, stands amid a gathering of other co-defendants during the Treason Trial.
Mandela sews prison clothes by the shore in 1964. He was sent to the infamous jail at Robben Island, a barren rock off the coast near Cape Town, in 1963 in part for his activities supporting the ANC’s militant wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (the Spear of the Nation). His 27-year-long imprisonment made him the world’s most famous political prisoner.
Winnie Mandela stands by a portrait of her then husband in their Soweto home, 1985.
TIME’s former managing editor writes about the man he knew — a prisoner turned peacemaker who carried South Africa out of apartheid and changed the world