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

Ukraine President Appeals for More US Support

Speaking before Congress ahead of meeting with President Obama, Petro Poroshenko urges lawmakers to back Ukraine in its quest for freedom and democracy More

Photogallery Global Audience Watches as Scots Go to the Polls

People were almost equally divided over a vote for independence, watched closely by Britain's allies, investors and restive regions at home and abroad More

China to Invest $20B in India Amid Border Dispute

Border spat between armies of two countries in Himalayas underlines mutual tensions despite growing commercial ties highlighted by Xi Jinping's high-profile visit More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid