Publish Date: Feb. 5, 1990
Cover Story: At the Crossroads
How TIME Covered the News: The South African anti-apartheid crusader Nelson Mandela had been in prison so long that few abroad were even sure what he looked like—note the somewhat flawed rendering of his portrait in this 1990 TIME cover. His mooted release was seen as a panacea for South Africa—apartheid was on its last legs, reforms had to happen and a country hammered by divisions cried out for a figure of unity.
“In one of those astonishing ironies of history, many have invested their hopes in Nelson Mandela, the aged black revolutionary now endowed with almost mythic stature. Imprisoned for life for sedition, unseen and largely unheard from for more than 27 years, he is somehow expected to lead South Africa to salvation. But can any man perform that miracle? Is South Africa really ready to be led out of the wilderness of apartheid into the promised land of . . . of what? The black dream of a nonracial democratic society — in short, black rule?”
Next 1991 – Boris Yeltsin