After attaining his freedom, Nelson Mandela led the ANC in its negotiations with the governing National Party and various other South African political organizations for an end to apartheid and the establishment of a multiracial government. Though fraught with tension and conducted against a backdrop of political instability, the talks earned Mandela and de Klerk the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1993. On April 26, 1994, more than 22 million South Africans turned out to cast ballots in the country’s first multiracial parliamentary elections in history. An overwhelming majority chose the ANC to lead the country, and on May 10 Mandela was sworn in as the first black president of South Africa, with de Klerk serving as his first deputy.
As president, Mandela established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights and political violations committed by both supporters and opponents of apartheid between 1960 and 1994. He also introduced numerous social and economic programs designed to improve the living standards of South Africa’s black population. In 1996 Mandela presided over the enactment of a new South African constitution, which established a strong central government based on majority rule and prohibited discrimination against minorities, including whites.
Improving race relations, discouraging blacks from retaliating against the white minority and building a new international image of a united South Africa were central to President Mandela’s agenda. To these ends, he formed a multiracial “Government of National Unity” and proclaimed the country a “rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.” In a gesture seen as a major step toward reconciliation, he encouraged blacks and whites alike to rally around the predominantly Afrikaner national rugby team when South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
On his 80th birthday in 1998, Mandela wed the politician and humanitarian Graça Machel (1945-), widow of the former president of Mozambique. (His marriage to Winnie had ended in divorce in 1992.) The following year, he retired from politics at the end of his first term as president and was succeeded by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki (1942-) of the ANC.
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