On This Day in History: Nelson Mandela Freed From a South African Prison On this day in history, February 11, 1990 Nelson Mandela was freed from a South African prison. The late South African anti-apartheid activist served decades in prison as a political prisoner in his home country. In 1961 he was arrested and acquitted of treason. In 1962 he was arrested for illegally leaving South Africa. In 1964 he was sentenced to life for threatening to overthrow the government. Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95.