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Today in history: Nelson Mandela freed after 27 years

FREEDOM: Mandela and his then wife Winnie

IT WAS a moment that millions will never forget as Nelson Mandela took his first steps as a free man after 27 years of imprisonment by the racist South African apartheid regime.

On February 11, 1990, the anti-apartheid leader appeared at the gates of Victor-Verster Prison in Paarl - now called Freedom Gate, with his then wife Winnie Madikizela.

Holding her hand and dressed in a light brown suit and tie, he smiled at the ecstatic crowds and punched the air in a victory salute before taking a silver BMW to Cape Town, 40 miles away.

People danced in the streets across the country and thousands clamoured to see him at a rally in Cape Town witness this pivotal moment in history.

His release came eight days after the former president FW de Klerk called for a non-racist South Africa and announced the unbanning of political parties including Mandela's African National Congress (ANC).

Madiba, who was the deputy-president of the ANC at the time, appeared on the balcony of Cape Town’s City Hall where he addressed 50,000 people assembled outside.

Many South Africans saw the release of Mandela as the beginning of freedom.

In 1991, Mandela succeeded Oliver Tambo as president of the ANC and three year later he became the first black democratically elected President of South Africa.

After five years in office Mandela retired in 1999 and devoted his time championing peace and social justice in his country.

In 2002, he began spearheading the campaign for AIDS awareness and treatment, focusing on eradicating the stigma surrounding the disease, which claimed the life of his son Makgatho three years later.

The former president of South Africa, who was treated for prostate cancer in 2001 and weakened by other health issues, grew increasingly frail in his later years.

This led him to scale back his schedule of public appearances.

On December, 5, 2013, Mandela, aged 95 died after battling a recurring lung infection which had developed since his incarceration at Robben Island.

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