After 27 years, President F.W. de Klerk announced in 1990, "Mr. Nelson Mandela will be released from Victor Vestor prison…" On Feb. 11, 1990 Mandela emerged from prison into a world he had not seen in almost three decades.
Mandela described leaving the prison and greeting the crowds by saying, "I raised my right fist and there was a roar. I had not been able to do that for 27 years and it gave me a surge of strength and joy."
The country's black townships erupted into celebration for a returning hero. Mandela announced: "Today all South Africans -- black and white -- know that apartheid has no future."
Mandela and de Klerk forged an uneasy partnership in the coming years, despite sharing the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Peace, however, would not come quickly. More than 4,000 people died in political violence in the year leading up the country's free elections in 1994.
On April 27, 1994, millions of blacks in an extraordinary show of determination lined up for hours to cast their first ballots. The ANC won in a landslide and Mandela became South Africa's first black president.
Mandela announced: "I am the product of Africa and her long cherished dream of a rebirth that can now be realized so that all of her children may play in the sun."
He remained in office for five years. In 1999 in his final act of leadership, he oversaw the peaceful transfer of power to a handpicked successor.
His post-prison years were marred, however, by the scandal that surrounded his wife Winnie Mandela. They were married for only four months when Mandela was sent away to prison, and she spent the next 27 years campaigning for his release and amassing her own power base.
By the time Mandela was freed from jail, Winnie had become an unpopular and feared figure in South Africa. She was eventually convicted of kidnapping in the case of four teenage boys, including one who died. She was sentenced to six years in prison, but the charges were later reduced to theft and fraud and she was forced to pay a fine instead.
Mandela's Late in Life Love Life
Mandela, who had stood by his wife at first, divorced her in 1995 after revealing to a South African court that his wife was carrying on an adulterous affair that left him as "the loneliest man."
But a late-in-life romance blossomed for the gentle statesman with Graca Machel, an influential campaigner for children's rights and the widow of Mozambique's former president Samora Machel. The two were married in 1998 on Mandela's 80th birthday. She was 52.
In 2001 Mandela was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but doctors said that wasn't unusual for man of Mandela's age and treated it with radiation therapy.
After he left office, Mandela became a global statesman, mediating conflicts in some of the world's worst troubled spots.
He also devoted much of his time to his charity for children. In an interview with PBS' "Frontline," Rick Stengel who co-authored "A Long Walk to Freedom" with Mandela, said , "One of the things that separates Mandela from other people ... is that he's an optimist. He's a cockeyed optimist."
In 2008, tens of thousands of people turned out in London to honor him for his 90th birthday. Nelson Mandela told them the fight against injustice is not yet won. But after a lifetime of working for peace, he told the crowd, "It is in your hands now."