News / Africa

    South Africa Marks Mandela's Prison Release 20 Years Ago

    To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release from prison of Nelson Mandela, former members of the national reception committee were brought in together in Johannesburg, 04 Feb 2010, by Winnie and Zindzi to reminisce about the event of 11 February 1990
    To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release from prison of Nelson Mandela, former members of the national reception committee were brought in together in Johannesburg, 04 Feb 2010, by Winnie and Zindzi to reminisce about the event of 11 February 1990

    Multimedia

    Audio

    South Africans are observing the 20-year anniversary since the country's elder statesman Nelson Mandela walked free from an apartheid prison.  The anniversary is being marked with a symbolic march from the prison, speeches, and exhibits at museums.

    It was a day few South Africans expected to see, Nelson Mandela walking down the road a free man and hand-in-hand with his then wife, Winnie Mandela.  He emerged to a rapturous crowd outside the Victor Verster prison not far from Cape Town, with millions across the country and the globe watching the event live on television.

    There had been some debate among his ANC handlers that day about where he should make his first address, with many believing it should be in his home town of Soweto.  Jay Naidoo, then general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, tells VOA that Mandela chose otherwise.

    "And at the end of all of this debate which he listened very closely to he said, I have been in Cape Town for 27 years, this is the place which has been my home for that 27 years, I will make my first address to the nation here.  And that was the end of the debate," he said.

    And so in the fading light of February 11, 1990, Mr. Mandela came on to the balcony of Cape Town's city hall, and addressed the excited, massed crowd.  He reminded them of his words from the dock in the 1964 trial for sabotage in which he was sentenced to life behind bars.

    "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die," said Mr. Mandela.

    The manner of arriving at the decision that day seems to typify Mr. Mandela's style of leadership.  He listens to all sides of a discussion, but then makes up his own mind.  But Cyril Ramaphosa, then chairman of the Nelson Mandela Reception Committee, says the former South African president easily brings others around to his point of view.  

    Cyril Ramaphosa
    Cyril Ramaphosa

    Ramaphosa tells VOA that he was part of a delegation that was permitted to meet the jailed leader a few months before his release.  Mr. Mandela had begun talks with government leaders and this made leaders of the African National Congress and black trade unions very uncomfortable.

    "We knew that he had started talking to the enemy, and we were going there to tell him to stop this talking to the enemy business, and no sooner had we been in his presence than our resolve melted, it just disappeared because we were in awe, literally in awe of him," said Ramaphosa.

    Mac Maharaj, currently President Jacob Zuma's special envoy, spent twelve years behind bars with Mr. Mandela. He tells VOA of an incident in prison on Robben Island which he says illustrates another aspect of Mr. Mandela's leadership.

    The political prisoners were being marched, in rows of four, to work in the limestone quarry, and the guards shouted that they should run.  Maharaj says Mr. Mandela told his fellow prisoners to slow right down and quietly moved to the front to set the pace and ensure they did so, despite their fear of a violent reprisal.

    "Mandela has a very awkward walk, but I think that day it was the slowest walk of his life," he said. "That demonstrated to me, the epitome of his leadership, he is always ready to take the risk that he asks any of his comrades to take.  He is always ready to assess a situation, and understand what it demands, and bend his conduct both his word and his behavior, to suit those needs."

    At exhibit at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg to illustrate the size and layout of Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island
    At exhibit at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg to illustrate the size and layout of Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island

    The three decades he had been behind bars, his image and voice outlawed by the apartheid government, had forged Mr. Mandela into a myth for most.  But Ramaphosa, Mr. Mandela's chief negotiator in the country's democracy talks and the principal architect of South Africa's widely acclaimed constitution, says that on meeting him, myth quickly merged into man.

    "His stature, his mere presence, and that is when I thought that myth and man merged, to be the Nelson Mandela that we finally saw in our presence.  A man of unbelievable resolve; resolve that you picked up as you shook his hand, as you looked straight in his eyes, and as he talked to you," he said.

    In 1994 after his African National Congress party won an overwhelming victory in the country's first democratic elections, Mr. Mandela became South Africa's first black president.  Many promises were made by him and his party to right the wrongs of the past, to give black South Africans equal opportunity, equal education, equal health care, decent homes and jobs - millions of jobs.

    There has been remarkable progress in some areas, but there have also been real failures, particularly in the past ten years.

    A significant black middle class has emerged, and a number of black South Africans are now counted among the country's most wealthy.  Blacks are making a significant impact, not only in government posts, but in all sectors of the economy.

    But while most children now go to school, many schools are failing to give them a good education; many clinics were built in rural areas, but often they are not staffed or not equipped, and the country is reeling under the burden of the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world.

    South Africans also live under a burden of a very high crime rate, with some 50 reported murders each day and equally high numbers of other violent crimes such as rape and assault.

    There are daily reports of corruption at all levels of government. And perceptions of a government beset by corruption were not helped by a seven year corruption investigation against President Jacob Zuma, which was abandoned shortly before the election which brought him to power last year.

    But perhaps most importantly the economy, which grew well up until the global economic collapse in 2008, has failed to deliver the number of jobs needed to make a significant impact on the levels of poverty.  The official jobless rate is 24 percent, and a recent study revealed the country has the widest gap between rich and poor in the world.

    Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu, who remains one of the country's moral lodestars, says it is time for South Africans to recapture the spirit that prevailed when Mr. Mandela was released and to start making a difference in bringing the fruits of democracy to all South Africans.  

    You May Like

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Spanish Warrants Point to Russian Govt. Links to Organized Crime

    Links to several Russians, some of them reputedly close Putin associates, backed by ‘very strong evidence,’ Spanish judge says

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    Iraq needs stable, central government to push back against Islamic State, US says, but others warn that Baghdad may not have unified front any time soon

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora