May 9, 1994: Nelson Mandela is Elected President of South Africa
On this day in 1994, South Africa’s parliament elected Nelson Mandela as the country’s next president. The next day, Mandela was inaugurated, becoming the nation’s first black president and a symbol of change in the post-apartheid era.
Nelson Mandela’s election was even more triumphant, as he had spent 27 years in prison for his involvement in the anti-apartheid and anti-colonial movement. While in prison, Mandela had been confined to a small cell with the floor his bed, a bucket for a toilet, and he was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. He was allowed one visitor a year for 30 minutes. He could write and receive one letter every six months.
Through his intelligence, charm and dignified defiance, Nelson Mandela eventually bent even the most brutal prison officials to his will, assumed leadership over his jailed comrades and became the master of his own prison. He emerged from it the mature leader who would fight and win the great political battles that would create a new democratic South Africa.
Learn more about Nelson Mandela’s time in prison and his early years as a revolutionary with FRONTLINE’s The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela site.
Photo: South African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela gives a clenched fist to supporters upon his arrival for his first election rally on March 15, 1994 (WALTER DHLADHLA/AFP/Getty Images).