Madiba 20

Stalwarts retrace steps to freedom

2010-02-11 14:44
ANC party tycoon and veteran activist Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of former president Nelson Mandela's release from jail in Paarl. (Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

ANC party tycoon and veteran activist Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of former president Nelson Mandela's release from jail in Paarl. (Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

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Obama calls Mandela
Obama calls Mandela

US President Barack Obama has called former president Nelson Mandela to mark the 20th anniversary of his release from prison.

Cape Town - Arm in arm, ANC stalwarts on Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from jail 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 the Drakenstein Correctional Centre near Paarl, formerly known as Victor Verster Prison.

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 in jail.

Mandela was not present at Thursday’s celebration, nor was his then wife Winnie, who in 1990 was at his side.

Galaxy of luminaries

But there was a galaxy of other ANC luminaries, including several Cabinet ministers, and comrades from the tripartite alliance, among them Cosatu general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and ANC youth leader Julius Malema.

While Mandela’s walk came after a year of nominal imprisonment in a warder’s residence on the prison grounds, Thursday’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 hundred 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.

Etched on everyone’s memory

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 co-ordinate Mandela’s release, told the crowd the day of the 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 said it had to be recognised that on that day Mandela had been not an individual but was a disciplined and loyal member 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 to.”

Ramaphosa, former head of the reception committee and now a businessman, told his listeners 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.”

Read more on:    anc  |  trevor manuel  |  nelson mandela  |  cyril ramaphosa

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