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

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers 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.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More