On this day in 1994, Nelson Mandela defied three centuries of white-minority rule and decades of racial strife in South Africa, becoming the country’s first-ever black president.
The live television coverage gripped the world as Mandela, then aged 75, addressed the nation during a moment of unparalleled history.
Having survived 27 years in prison, President Mandela was not bitter during his public remarks. In fact, the anti-apartheid icon paid tribute to his predecessor, F.W. de Klerk, and adopted a tone of reconciliation.
“We saw our country tear itself apart in terrible conflict… The time for healing of wounds has come… Never, never again will this beautiful land experience the oppression of one by another,” he said.
Four years earlier in 1990, Mandela was freed from prison and began intense negotiations that led to multi-racial elections and his presidency. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with de Klerk, in 1993.
Mandela, lovingly called the “Father of the Nation,” served as president until 1999. After stepping down, he became among the world’s most respected active elder statesman until the early 2000s.
He died in 2013 at age 95.