F. W. de Klerk
South African presidentWe would all like Mr. Mandela's release to take place in a dignified and orderly manner. On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela, the symbolic leader of the international movement to end South African apartheid, was released from prison after twenty-seven years. In 1944, Mandela, a lawyer, joined the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest black political organization in South Africa. Quickly rising in the organization's ranks, he advocated nonviolent resistance to apartheid-South Africa's institutionalized system of white supremacy and racial segregation. However, after the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre he became more militant, and in 1962 he was sentenced to five years imprisonment for illegally leaving the country. Two years later, he was put on trial again for treason, and on June 14, 1964, he was sentenced to life in prison at the end of the Rivonia Trial. Sent to the brutal Robben Island Prison, Mandela was confined to a small cell without a bed or plumbing and was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. He could write and receive a letter once every six months, and once a year he was allowed to meet with a visitor for thirty minutes. However, his resolve remained unbroken, and he led a movement of civil disobedience at Robben Island that effectively coerced South African officials into drastically improving prison conditions. In the last nine years of his imprisonment, he was moved to another location where he lived under house arrest. In 1989, F. W. de Klerk became South African president and set about dismantling apartheid. De Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC, suspended executions, and in February 1990, ordered the release of Nelson Mandela. Mandela subsequently led the ANC in its negotiations with the minority government for an end to apartheid and the establishment of a multiracial government. In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and in 1994, the ANC won an electoral majority in the country's first free elections, and Mandela was elected South African president.