This Day in Black History: Mandela Sentenced to Life in Prison

Forty-nine years ago, South Africa’s former leader was convicted of sabotage.

Posted: 06/12/2013 05:49 PM EDT

Eight men, among them Nelson Mandela, leave the Palace of Justice in Pretoria  on June 16, 1964, with their fists raised in defiance through the barred windows of the prison car.  (Photo: OFF/AFP/Getty Images)

Forty-nine years ago today, South African leader Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison.

On June 12, 1964, following the highly publicized Rivonia Trial, Mandela was convicted on four counts of sabotage and sentenced to life in prison. The sentence was unexpected as many South African judges’ sentenced those guilty of government sabotage to death during this period of apartheid.

The 94-year-old former president commemorated this significant day in serious condition in a Pretoria hospital battling a recurring lung infection. This is his fifth day in intensive care and his fourth time being admitted to the hospital for treatment since December.

Current South African President Jacob Zuma announced Mandela is responding better to treatment, according to the Associated Press. “On this crucial historical anniversary, our thoughts are with President Mandela and his family,” Zuma said.

CBS News reports on the growing momentum of South Africans that believe Madiba, as he is affectionately known across South Africa, should now be allowed a peaceful death. Over the past few days, he has been visited by his ex-wife Winnie and his children, including one who flew in from Argentina.

Mandela gained prominence as a leading figure of the African National Congress, a political party that opposed South Africa’s racially discriminating apartheid government. Mandela spent 27 years behind bars off the coast of South Africa in the notorious prison Robben Island. Released early for peacemaking efforts in 1990, Mandela went on to lead the demise of the apartheid system, win a Nobel Peace Prize and become South Africa’s first Black president.


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