Nelson Mandela was the first black president of South Africa. He succeeded F.W. de Klerk and led the nation from 1994 to 1999. He has received hundreds of awards including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Mandela first became heavily involved in politics after the National Party election victory in 1948. The national party was dominated by Afrikaners and supported policies of apartheid, such as racial segregation. At this point in his life, Mandela operated a law firm with Oliver Tambo. This firm provided low-cost counsel to blacks who could not afford or find other legal representation.
In the early 1950s, Mandela became very politically active, leading many campaigns by the African National Congress (ANC) against apartheid policies of the National party. In the early 60s he led the armed wing of the ANC, known as Umkhonto we Sizwe. He organized many sabotage campaigns against the Afrikaner dominated military and government. Mandela also made plans for possible guerrilla warfare if these sabotage attempts failed to end Apartheid.
In 1964, after months of living on the run and short prison terms, Mandela was put on trial in Johannesburg for crimes equivalent to treason. At the opening of the trial, Mandela gave an opening statement in which he expressed his support of the ANC’s efforts to end apartheid. At the end of this statement he said:
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Mandela was sentenced to life in prison, to be served at a maximum security prison on Robben Island. In 1990, former President F.W. de Klerk released Mandela after 27 years in prison.