How long was Nelson Mandela in prison? Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. Mandela was given a life sentence in 1964 after being convicted of plotting to sabotage the South African government, and he remained in prison until Feb. 2, 1990, when he was officially released from the Victor-Verster Prison in Paarl. Mandela’s freedom came after South Africa had relaxed its longstanding apartheid laws and lifted its ban on the African National Congress, Mandela’s party.
Mandela spent much of his 27-year prison term on Robben Island, off Cape Town, where he occupied a tiny cell and was isolated from other prisoners. While Mandela had opportunities to be released early from prison, he turned down such offers, as he disagreed with the government’s conditions, according to the BBC.
After serving 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela addressed a crowd of 50,000 supporters on Feb. 11, 1990, marking a historic moment for civil-rights advocates everywhere. “Our struggle has reached a decisive moment,” Mandela said. “Our march to freedom is irreversible.” In 1993—some three decades after he began serving his 27 years in prison—Mandela and South African President FW de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1994, in the first multi-racial elections in South Africa’s history, Nelson Mandela was elected president. He served until 1999 and was succeeded by Thabo Mbeki.
Nelson Mandela’s 27 years in prison made him an international icon, and he’s won more than 250 awards, including the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. He’s known as the “father of the nation,” and after leaving office, he continued doing charitable work—something that would have been unthinkable during his 27 years in prison.