Resistance to apartheid was led by the African National Congress (ANC) and allied organisations. The considerable energies of African nationalism were increasingly channelled into the struggle for a democracy defined by non-racialism. There were four pillars to this struggle – armed resistance, underground work, international solidarity and mass mobilisation. The apartheid regime was not overthrown. When it became clear that the slow disintegration of the apartheid system could not be stemmed, the regime engaged its opponents in a process of negotiated settlement.
In February 1990 the ANC and all other outlawed oppositional organisations were legalised, and Nelson Mandela was released from prison. This began a period of formal negotiation leading to South Africa’s first democratic elections in April 1994. Although the ANC, led by Mandela, won a sweeping victory in that election, it would manage the first five years of democracy-building through a Government of National Unity. The nature of the transition to democracy meant that there would be no dramatic dismantling of the apartheid system. Rather, the new would be built out of the old through processes of transformation and reconciliation. These processes were given a powerful symbolic embodiment in the person of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.