, JOHANNESBURG, Dec 5 – Nelson Mandela’s long walk from apartheid prisoner to South African president remade a country and inspired the world.
Mandela died peacefully at home in Johannesburg aged 95 after spending months in critical condition following treatment for a lung infection.
Twenty-three years earlier, on February 11, 1990, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela emerged, greying but unbowed, from 27 years detention for opposing the white-minority apartheid regime.
It was a defining moment of the 20th century.
In freeing the world’s most famous political prisoner, President FW de Klerk sent an unequivocal message: after centuries of subjugation, millions of other black South Africans would soon be free too.
Apartheid was over.
“I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all,” a 71-year-old Mandela said in his first public speech in 27 years.
“I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people.”
Devoid of self-pity, he reached out to the same people who jailed him and who brutalised fellow blacks to preach “true reconciliation” in what was, and remains, a deeply scared country.
“He came out a far greater person than the man who went in,” said former archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“He had learned to understand the foibles and weaknesses of human beings and to be more generous in his judgment of others.”
Four years after his release – and just a year after he received the Nobel Peace Prize – South Africans would vote in droves to elect Mandela the country’s first black president.
As that rarest of politicians, a leader imbued with moral force, Mandela was never likely to lose.