In any given year, many of the nearly 200 countries in the world will get a new leader. Some of these leaders will be elected (or chosen) by their citizens, others will force their way into power. Some will bring much change to their country, others will keep things as they've always been. But few leaders will be elected to bring as much change as Nelson Mandela was when he was sworn into office on May 10th, 1994.
Mandela was not just the first black president of South Africa, he was the first leader to be chosen in an election where all races could vote equally. Before that, white South Africans were the ones who elected the State president and representatives. Only select blacks had any voting rights at all and these were limited. During these days, known as apartheid, blacks in South Africa were severely oppressed. They were segregated (or separated by law) from positions of wealth and power, and they were subject to arrest, long prison time, or worse, at the will of the whites in control.
A champion for black South Africans
The country was a very unjust place. These harsh conditions influenced many black South Africans to fight for their rights. Nelson Mandela was one of them. In the early 1960s, he joined in demonstrations against the government. In 1962 he was arrested and eventually went to jail for 27 years. During his time in jail, Mandela slowly became a popular hero to not only black South Africans, but people around the world. All through the 1980s, other countries and activists protested that South Africa's apartheid was unjust and needed to end.
By the time Mandela was released in 1990, he was so popular that he was seen as a leader of blacks in the country. He worked over the next few years with then-president F.W. de Klerk to dismantle apartheid for good. By the time of the next election on April 27th, 1994, South Africa was a new country. All races came together to elect a new leader in the largest turnout of voters ever seen. Mandela won the presidency in a landslide. As a show of unity and reconciliation (meaning choosing forgiveness and healing as a way forward), he asked de Klerk to be his new vice president.
Nelson Mandela passed away on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95.