South Africans have been commemorating the 30th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s walk to freedom marking his release from prison in 1990, a move that ushered in a new political dispensation for the Rainbow Nation of 50 million people.
Many people across the nation are therefore remembering the day in which Mandela, accompanied by his wife Winnie, left Victor Verster Prison in Cape Town, his right fist raised in the air, as thousands of South Africans greeted the freedom struggle icon after 27 years of incarceration, including his stay at the notorious Robben Island prison.
Mandela’s release followed the announcement by the then President FW de Klerk of the unbanning of liberation movements like Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress.
To mark this historic release, the Nelson Mandela Foundation is hosting a reunion of some of the original members of the National Reception Committee that facilitated the global icon’s return from prison.
The reunion will, among others, be attended by former National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka as well as Sydney Mufamadi, democratic South Africa’s first Minister of Safety and Security.
In an interview, Ngcuka recalled how the day before Mandela’s release the committee burnt midnight oil strategising how the following day would unfold.
Nqcuka remembered how the committee arrived at the prison’s cottage to find Mandela dressed in his pyjamas and readying for bed.
Mandela had been moved to the cottage on the prison premises, after his discharge from a clinic in Cape Town following a bout of Tuberculosis.
That Saturday night, according to the former minister, committee members arranged a rally that would be held at the Grand Parade in the Cape Town city centre the next day, following his release at 1500 GMT.
President Cyril Ramaphosa -- who was the committee’s chairperson -- recalled the events of that day in his weekly newsletter on Monday.
“I remember vividly the large crowd that had gathered outside Victor Verster prison in Paarl, waiting patiently for several hours to see their hero walk free.
“And the many more residents of Cape Town who gathered on the Grand Parade to hear him speak,” the president said.
He said the image of a 71-year old Mandela walking through the gates of the prison finally confirmed to South Africans and the rest of the world’s people that a new era had indeed dawned on South Africa.
The need to unite South Africa’s people was what stood out for Ramaphosa when he listened to the former statesman’s address made at the Cape Town City Hall’s balcony on that day of his release from prison.
“It was true then and it remains true three decades later,” Ramaphosa said.
Following his release, Mandela led the ANC delegation in talks with the then apartheid government. In 1993 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside President de Klerk for their efforts to end apartheid.
In 1994 Mandela voted in South Africa’s first democratic elections and was inaugurated as president on 10 May of the same year in what he called the Rainbow Nation.
While South Africa continues to be beset by several challenges since that historic day, the 25 years of democracy have shown great promise for the country’s masses as they celebrate the 30th anniversary of Mandela’s release from prison.