Nelson Mandela, here with U.S. President Bill Clinton, was elected as South Africa's first black president in 1994, a year after this photo was taken.
Photograph by Robert McNeely, courtesy the White House Photograph Office

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  • On April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first multiracial parliamentary elections. More than 22 million South Africans cast their ballots and elected Nelson Mandela, a leader of the African National Congress party, as president. Mandela was inaugurated in May, becoming South Africa’s first black head-of-state. He remained president until 1999.               
    Prior to Mandela’s term as president, he spent 27 years of his life in prison for trying to overthrow South Africa’s racist government. In 1990, South African President F.W. de Klerk, whom Mandela would eventually succeed, ordered his release. Mandela, de Klerk, and other leaders then worked to dismantle apartheid, South Africa’s infamous system of racial segregation. For their work, Mandela and de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    apartheid Noun

    (1948-1993) South African government's policy of separating different races of people.

    dismantle Verb

    to take apart.

    election Noun

    selection of people to public office by vote.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    infamous Adjective

    having a very bad reputation.

    Nobel Peace Prize Noun

    award recognizing the contributions of a person or organization to "work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace."

    parliament Noun

    legislature, usually a democratic government's decision-making body.

    racist Adjective

    community or government policy of denying certain rights to people based on their ancestry, usually signified by skin color.

    segregation Noun