Freed Nelson Mandela | 30 years on: The legend and his legacy

2020-02-11 07:00
Nelson Mandela. (Netwerk24, file)

Nelson Mandela. (Netwerk24, file)

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Thirty years ago today, Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison (now Drakenstein) after having spent 27 years behind bars.

His incarceration by the apartheid government had come to an end. On Cape Town's Grand Parade, tens of thousands of people were waiting patiently for their hero to address them.

As night fell, the president-in-waiting did not disappoint, with a speech for the ages - one which President Cyril Ramaphosa would do well to draw inspiration from given the state of South Africa's economy and the discord within the ANC.

Said Mandela from City Hall overlooking Cape Town's iconic square: "Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans. I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.

"I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands."

But as political analyst Ralph Mathekga points out "that if Mandela did not emerge among us, we will most likely take his legacy more seriously"; while Keith Gottschalk a political scientist from the University of the Western Cape says "Mandela's release and the unbanning of the political parties in 1990 was as momentous, and as limited, as the emancipation of the slaves back in 1834".

Dr Amanda Gouws, a Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Stellenbosch University, concludes that we are all indebted to Madiba for not seeking revenge; while the ANC Women's League's Meokgo Matuba lauds him for his recognition of women in the struggle.

If Mandela wasn't from among us, his legacy would be taken more seriously

It has been 30 years since Nelson Mandela made it out of prison after 27 years of incarceration by the apartheid regime. I remember vividly as a secondary school student when the news of Mandela's release reached Limpopo province; it was a euphoric moment and the songs of freedom filled the air. Mandela's release was so significant that it symbolised immediate freedom for many citizens who were oppressed by the then regime, writes Ralph Mathekga.  

Cyril Ramaphosa and Nelson Mandela a few days after Mandela's 11 February 1990 release. (Media24, File)

Nelson Mandela's release: living through a once-in-a-lifetime event

After 27 April 1990, when Mandela was sworn in as President and the ANC as government, western journalists hung around for a week waiting for revenge massacres which never came. Then they, one by one, flew off to cover the Rwandan genocide, writes Keith Gottschalk.


Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk in May 1990. (Getty Images)

We are all indebted to Nelson Mandela for not seeking revenge

I will never forget the sense of relief that I experienced when FW de Klerk announced the un-banning of banned political parties and the release of Nelson Mandela.  It meant an end to the senseless violence that engulfed the country at the time and for the first time true prospects of establishing a democracy in South Africa, writes Amanda Gouws.

A jubilant Sowetan holds up a newspaper announcing the release of Nelson Mandela at a mass ANC rally on 11 February 1990. (AFP/Getty)

Where were you on the day Madiba walked out of prison?

Comrade Nelson Mandela’s release on 11 February 1990 was one of those moments in history that will not be easily forgotten. As we look back, we hear those words asking us in our minds: "Where were you on the day Madiba walked out of prison?" The 50 000-strong crowd, who had waited patiently in the blaring summer sun, were on the Grand Parade in Cape Town and eventually that evening was addressed by Madiba, writes Meokgo Matuba.

winnie and nelson
Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela shortly after his release from Victor Verster Prison (now Drakenstein). (Allan Tannenbaum—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Nelson Mandela's speech on 11 February 1990: I stand here before you ... as a humble servant

I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands. - Nelson Mandela

siya arch

Siya Kolisi and Desmond Tutu at Nelson Mandela's statue at Cape Town's City Hall. (Ashley Vlotman, Gallo Images, Getty Images)

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