Guest Column

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

2020-02-11 07:00
Siya Kolisi and Desmond Tutu next to the Nelson Mandela statue overlooking Cape Town's Grand Parade.(Ashley Vlotman, Gallo Images, Getty Images)

Siya Kolisi and Desmond Tutu next to the Nelson Mandela statue overlooking Cape Town's Grand Parade.(Ashley Vlotman, Gallo Images, Getty Images)

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Comrade Mandela in his first address to us as a country and indeed the world, now 30 years ago, described women as "… the rock-hard foundation of our struggle … " writes Meokgo Matuba 

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.

Yet those hours waiting for him were nothing compared to the years we had waited for our leader’s release.

Thanks to television, millions of us in our country and across the globe watched as he and mme Winnie walked out of Victor Verster Prison one hand clutching the other’s as if to symbolise the unity among all of us who had offered up our lives, youth and families in the fight for freedom.

The other hand, piercing the sky in a clenched the fist - the unity, the strength and the resolve to achieve freedom. 

Indeed Madiba had come to symbolise freedom. 

Today we read about how the apartheid regime, under the illegitimate leadership of Botha and then De Klerk, tried to set conditions to Madiba’s release. 

Almost five years to the day, on 10 February 1985, Comrade Zinzi Mandela had read her father’s letter to us in a packed Jabulani Stadium in Soweto.

The government had set conditions for his release. 

Through his words, he reminded us what cowards Malan, Strijdom, Verwoerd and indeed Botha were, refusing to sit down and negotiate the future of our country. 

Madiba, in that letter, insisted that he cared much more for our freedom than his own and that too many had already suffered for the love of freedom. 

"Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return," Comrade Mandela had declared!

When eventually he was released on 11 February 1990, we and the world knew that there were no conditions set to his freedom. It is for this reason after all that he had remained in prison longer than his fellow comrades.

Cyril Ramaphosa and Nelson Mandela, a few days after Mandela's 11 February 1990 release. (Netwerk24, file)

Now on the Grand Parade, Comrade Madiba was addressing the crowd. 

Among the many people he saluted, he also recognised and paid tribute " … to the mothers and wives and sisters of our nation … the rock-hard foundation of our struggle. Apartheid has inflicted more pain on [us] than on anyone else…"

Sadly, today, amidst the on-going scourge of gender-based violence, violence against children and against members of the LGBTIQA+ community which continues to be a blight on our young democracy, we must recognise that if apartheid inflicted more pain on us than anyone else, as Madiba said, then so has freedom. 

No doubt, apartheid’s pain was institutionalised and therefore worse. But we continue to feel that pain.

There should be no doubt that the violence against women and children in particular are but symptomatic of the structural violence endured by our women and children in South Africa on a daily basis. 

The person who continues to suffer the most from oppression remains the African girl-child found in our rural areas or in the squalor of our townships. 

While Madiba came to be and remains a symbol of freedom to us, we will never be free unless every single girl-child is free from the scourges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

As a result, we must campaign for a more efficient and safer school transport system for our children, especially those in rural areas. 

We must ensure that male teachers who take advantage of our girl children are dealt with in the harshest terms and never be permitted to teach again. 

We must ensure that the majority of those students entering university and TVET colleges every year remain young women and are entering all fields and disciplines of study. 

We must guarantee and campaign that businesses run by women are awarded work by the government and ensure that those in the front-line of economic opportunities remain women. 

This is our struggle as women. We must unite and stand together and fight patriarchy. Men will never give us the power they have on a platter. We must fight for it. 

Comrade Mandela in his first address to us as a country and indeed the world, now 30 years ago, described women as "… the rock-hard foundation of our struggle … " 

He would have borrowed this from the slogan shouted in 1956 at the Women's March in Pretoria: "Vorster, you strike a woman, you strike a rock!"

Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!

Protesters march against gender-based violence, organised by several NGO's and organisations at the JSE in Sandton on September 13, 2019. (Alet Pretorius, Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Some women today, criticise us for using this slogan.

"We are not rocks" they shout, "we are human, stop striking us!"

Indeed, we are human.

Indeed, the striking of women by those in power and by men must stop!

In fact, we will no longer tolerate being subjugated to abuse by anyone of any kind.

But what those women in Pretoria that day meant and what Madiba meant 30 years ago was that like Comrade Winnie’s fist on that Sunday in Paarl and that of her husband's, no matter what you do to us: still we will rise!

- Meokgo Matuba is the Secretary-General of the ANC Women's League

Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  pw botha  |  fw de klerk  |  apartheid  |  democracy  |  freedom


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