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Nelson Mandela achieved an amazing feat by becoming the first Black president of his beloved South Africa. On this day in 1994, the late President Mandela assumed the mantle of leadership in front of an adoring throng of South Africans, world leaders and dignitaries from around the globe.

By the time, the man lovingly called “Madiba” had already sacrificed 27 year of his life as an imprisoned activist railing against South Africa’s racist apartheid regime. The first 18 years of that time were served in brutal conditions at the infamous Robben Island prison. In 1982 he was transferred to Pollsmor Prison  on the South African mainland before ending his days as a prisoner under house arrest in 1988.

During nearly three decades of imprisonment, Mandela he became the iconic face of the anti-apartheid movement. Even though his militant past dogged him in the eyes of white South Africans, Mandela gained support from figures from around the world who championed his cause.

Mandela was released officially in 1990 by then South African president F.W. de Klerk. After his release, an unusual partnership between Mandela’s African National Congress party and de Klerk’s National Party helped ease racial tensions. In 1991, the ANC won the country’s first free election and Mandela became President.

A unity coalition between the National Party, the ANC and the Zulu’s Inkatha Freedom Party was established. On May 10 in Pretoria, Mandela gave an impassioned inauguration speech that made mention of not only his sacrifice, but others around the world fighting for freedom.

“We dedicate this day to all the heroes and heroines in this country and the rest of the world who sacrificed in many ways and surrendered their lives so that we could be free. Their dreams have become reality. Freedom is their reward.

“We are both humbled and elevated by the honor and privilege that you, the people of South Africa, have bestowed on us, as the first President of a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa, to lead our country out of the valley of darkness,” said Mandela.

For their collaborative efforts, Mandela de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

In 1999, the age of 80, Mandela retired, handing over power to the ANC’s Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki served until 2008.

Mandela remained a vocal advocate for world peace,  HIV/Aids and human rights up until his death in 2013.

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