February 11, 1990: Nelson Mandela freed from jail after 27 years in captivity

Veteran anti-apartheid campaigner walks free from a South African prison more than a quarter of a century after being jailed for life alongside fellow ANC leaders.

South African anti-apartheid campaigner Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years of incarceration on this day in 1990.

Mandela left Victor-Verster Prison in the Western Cape province and walked hand-in-hand with his wife Winnie, punching the air in celebration and waving at the crowds of supporters who had come to witness his moment of freedom.

As shown in the archive news report above, the couple were then driven to Cape Town, where the 71-year-old deputy president of the African National Congress (ANC) addressed a crowd of 50,000 who had gathered outside its City Hall.

Claiming to be “overwhelmed” at the reception he was given, his speech underlined his commitment to peace, but he warned that the ANC's armed campaign would continue as "a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid” for as long as necessary.

Mandela had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 for sabotage and conspiring to violently overthrow the state, along with seven other ANC leaders.

He spent the first 18 years of his sentence in the notorious prison on Robben Island, off the Cape Town coast, mainly undergoing hard labour in a lime quarry. He was transferred to a mainland prison in 1982 before arriving at Victor-Verster in 1988.

He had refused early release on previous occasions due to the attached conditions affecting him and his party; with the relaxation of apartheid laws and the lifting of a ban on the ANC by South African President FW de Klerk, he was now able to go free unconditionally.