Nelson Mandela served as president of South Africa from 1994 until 1999.

Photograph by Chris Johns, National Geographic
  • On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was freed from Robben Island Prison, South Africa. Mandela was the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), a militant wing of the African National Congress (ANC). The MK was violently opposed to the system of racial apartheid, or forced segregation. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and charged with sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
    While in prison, Mandela's reputation, as both a leader and symbol of resistance to apartheid, grew around the world. Upon his release, he supported peaceful negotiation with the ruling government rather than violence. He led the transition from apartheid to the so-called “Rainbow Nation”—the multiracial democracy of contemporary South Africa. In 1994, Mandela was elected president in the first fully free elections in South Africa’s history.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    apartheid Noun

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

    democracy Noun

    system of organization or government where the people decide policies or elect representatives to do so.

    government Noun

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

    imprison Verb

    to confine or put in a jail-like facility.

    negotiation Noun

    discussion or discourse leading to terms of an agreement.

    resist Verb

    to oppose or confront.

    segregation Noun


    violence Noun

    acts that cause physical harm to another person.