Mandela and De Klerk were international symbols of apartheid. As a leader of the African National Congress and a participant in the struggle to overthrow apartheid, Mandela spent more than 25 years as a political prisoner. When De Klerk assumed the presidency of South Africa in September 1989, he began to change the system of apartheid and abolish discriminatory laws. On February 11, 1990, De Klerk released Mandela from prison.
Four years later, South Africa held its first democratic elections and Mandela was the overwhelming winner. "The exact nature of what Mandela and De Klerk together have achieved may not be clear for many years," TIME wrote. "The nation they share has an explosive history of racial, ethnic and tribal violence... If the chain of events they have set in motion leads to the conclusion they both want, then the future will write of them, that these were leaders who seized their days and actually dared to lead." (1/3/94)
Researched by Joan Levinstein, the Time Inc. Research Center