Why Was Nelson Mandela in Prison for 27 Years?

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Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years as a result of his efforts to bring racial harmony and equality to South Africa. He began his efforts as soon as he graduated from law school and founded the first black law firm in the country in 1952. As unrest spread in the 1950s and 1960s, Mandela found himself the target of law enforcement efforts, and after he secretly left South Africa to gain aid and training for the struggle, he was picked up and jailed until Feb. 11, 1990.

At first, Mandela’s time in prison looked to be limited to five years as the charges of inciting a strike and leaving the country without permission only had shorter sentences. After a police raid on a hideout that the African National Congress used, he was tried for sabotage and faced the death penalty. After his conviction, he had to sit in prison rather than attend the funerals of his mother and oldest son.

By the time Mandela emerged from prison, having survived prostate surgery and tuberculosis, he witnessed a South Africa that permitted the African National Congress to exist, and he negotiated equal status for blacks in public life. He and South African President F.W. de Klerk shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize as a result. In May 1994, he completed his climb from prisoner to president.