ANC stalwarts relive Madiba’s walk to freedom

2010-02-11 12:25

SHOULDER to shoulder, arm in arm, the liberation movement, ANC,

stalwarts today marked the 20th anniversary of president Nelson Mandela’s

release from prison by retracing his first steps to freedom.

Struggle veterans Mac Maharaj, Cyril Ramaphosa, Ahmed Kathrada and

Andrew Mlangeni were in the front row of the symbolic march through the gates of

Drakenstein Prison near Paarl, formerly known as Victor Verster.

It was through those gates, now marked by a life-size bronze statue

of him, that Mandela walked to freedom on February 11 1990, after 27 years of

incarceration.

Mandela was not present at today’s celebrations, nor was his then

wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who in 1990 was at his side.

But there was a galaxy of other ANC luminaries, including several

Cabinet ministers, comrades from the tripartite alliance, among them Cosatu

general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and the ANC Youth League leader Julius

Malema.

While Mandela’s walk came after a year of nominal imprisonment in a

warder’s residence on the prison grounds, today’s march followed a sumptuous

breakfast laid on by the ANC, with corporate sponsorship, for invited guests in

a marquee on the prison grounds.

As the marchers walked the few 100 metres from the marquee to the

gates, officials pleaded with journalists to give them space to move.

“Don’t make it a long walk, make it a short one please,” joked

Maharaj, the democratic South Africa’s first minister of transport.

At the gates, where they were met by a crowd of several thousand

people, they halted for speeches at the statue of Mandela.

Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, who was a member of the national

reception committee set up at the time to coordinate Mandela’s release, told the

crowd that the day of Mandela’s release in 1990 was etched on everyone’s

memory.

In his first public speech, Mandela had said he would place his

life in the hands of his fellow South Africans to continue as “a fellow soldier

in the struggle for liberation”.

“Today Madiba continues with that promise,” Manuel said. “He hasn’t

ever given up the responsibilities. It was not something that he said because he

was happy to be out of prison. He said it because it was fundamental to his

belief system.

“We were here with him then, we are here with him today

still.”

Manuel added that it had to be recognised that on that day Mandela

wasn’t just any individual but a disciplined and loyal cadre of the ANC.

“Important as Madiba was, he was a symbol. Because the ANC always

said release Nelson Mandela and all other political prisoners.

“Today we celebrate the symbolism, but we don’t focus only on

Madiba. We remind ourselves of where we’ve come from in the struggle to

establish a deep and durable democracy in this country, that touches the lives

of all of our people.

“We remind ourselves of where we’ve come from, but we remind

ourselves also of where we need to go.”

Ramaphosa, former head of the reception committee and now member of

the ANC national executive committee, said the ANC was not unbanned by former

state president FW de Klerk.

“You unbanned it yourself. You hoisted the flag of our people high,

and you said the ANC leads, the ANC lives,” he said. “When comrade Nelson

Mandela was released, as he walked out of these prison gates, we knew that his

freedom meant that our freedom had also arrived. As he became free we also knew

that we were now free.”


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