Many people across the globe today are remembering the day in which former President Nelson Mandela raised his fist in the air as he made his way out of the Victor Verster prison, in a move that would alter the history of South Africa.
Today, the world vividly remembers the iconic photograph of a grey haired Mandela dressed in a dark suit, crisp white shirt and tie, arm-in-arm with Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, as they emerged from the Paarl prison that Madiba, as he is affectionately known, had called home for 14 months.
The anti-apartheid global icon was released on 11 February 1990 from the facility which is now known as the Drakenstein Correctional Centre. In present day South Africa, the centre boasts a statue of the man himself, with his fist clenched in the air.
Madiba’s release followed the announcement by then President FW de Klerk of the unbanning of liberation movements like the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress.
To mark this historic release, the Nelson Mandela Foundation is today hosting a reunion of some of the original members of the National Reception Committee that facilitated the global icon’s return from prison.
The man who spent a total 27-years of his life incarcerated had also insisted that he be released from the Western Cape prison instead of transported to his house in Soweto as had been offered by President de Klerk. In addition, his beloved wife Winnie had to be by his side.
The reunion will among others be attended by former national Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka as well as democratic South Africa’s first Minister of Safety and Security Sydney Mufamadi.
In an earlier interview with SAnews, Ngcuka recalled how the day before Madiba’s release, the committee burnt the 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, following his discharge from a clinic in Cape Town following a bout of Tuberculosis.
That Saturday night, with grape juice in hand, 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 3pm.
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,” said the President.
He said the image of a 71-year old Mandela walking through the gates of the prison confirmed to South Africa and the rest of the world that a new era had dawned.
The need to unite South Africa’s people, is what stood out for President Ramaphosa of the former statesman’s address made at the Cape Town City Hall’s balcony.
“It was true then and it remains true three decades later,” said President Ramaphosa, who also reflected on the political violence of those days.
Following his release, Mandela led the ANC delegation in talks with the then 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.
While South Africa may continue to be beset by several challenges since that historic day, one can say that 25-years of democracy is entrenched.
President Ramaphosa is expected to deliver a speech on Madiba’s release later today. The address, which the President will make from the iconic Cape Town City Hall balcony is scheduled to get underway at 2:30 pm.
Prior to the President’s address, the Foundation will also host a lecture by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee and a panel discussion with author of ‘Feeling and Ugly” Danai Mupotsa and co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Opal Tometi.
Meanwhile at Mandela’s Capture Site in KwaZulu-Natal, the provincial department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) is set to open a multi-million rand multi-purpose centre at the site.
The opening of the centre is scheduled for 9am.
Located outside of Howick, the site commemorates President Mandela’s arrest on 5 August 1962. His arrest led to him spending 27-years of his life in prison.
Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, will join KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala and Cogta MEC Sipho Hlomuka for the launch of the centre.
This as the department will fund the phased upgrading of the site to cover the construction of the driveway, parking, landscaping, fencing and entrance gate.
Today’s anniversary falls within the same week that the President will deliver his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Thursday, 13 February.
The SONA which will get underway at 7 pm will be made before a joint siting of the two houses of Parliament – namely the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.
The former President stepped down after one term as President in 1999, the same year in which he established the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Madiba died at the age of 95 on 5 December 2013.