Nelson Mandela marks 20 years of freedom

South Africans are celebrating how far they have come since Nelson Mandela took his first steps to freedom 20 years ago today.

Thousands gathered for commemorations at what was known in 1990 as Victor Verster Prison, near Cape Town. A re-enactment is planned of the moment Mandela, hand-in-hand with his then-wife Winnie, walked free after 27 years in prison.

Cyril Ramaphosa, a leader in Mandela’s African National Congress, said: “We knew that his freedom meant that our freedom had also arrived.”

Just four years after Mandela’s release, South Africans held their first all-race elections, making Mandela their first black president.

His ANC has reduced poverty, built houses and delivered water, electricity and schools to blacks who had been without under apartheid. But needs remain great.

Mvuso Mbali, 37, was in the crowd today and said he was at the prison 20 years ago.
“I still remember vividly what happened,” he said.

He added: “Today we are reinventing our freedom and uniting our people to follow the values of Mandela.”

But others said Mandela’s release – triumphant as it was – carried uncertainty too.

“When Mandela was released we did not know what was going happen,” said Nontuntuzelo Faku, who came to today‘s event.

But being at the prison 20 years later, she said, “makes me realise how far the country has come”.
Mandela’s release was the culmination of an eventful few days for South Africa.

On February 2, then-President FW de Klerk announced the unbanning of the ANC and other organisations. On February 10, de Klerk announced at a press conference that Mandela would be released the next day.

Whites conditioned to see Mandela as an enemy who would destroy their way of life were shocked and confused. Blacks were uncertain that Mandela, known affectionately by his clan name Madiba, was right to trust de Klerk. Civil war seemed possible.

“I think the imprint of February is deeply etched into the psyche of our nation,” Mac Maharaj, a key ANC leader at the time, said.

“That image of Madiba, Winnie, walking out of Victor Verster, holding hands. Madiba looking quite, quite sombre, not celebratory, not pumping the air and jumping about like a victorious boxer, but walking very sternly, and I think I see a sense of bewilderment in him.”

Mandela marked the anniversary of his release at home last week, reminiscing with fellow veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle for the camera’s of his daughter Zindzi’s production company, which was preparing a documentary called Conversations About That Day.

He also was expected to be in parliament later today for a State of the Nation address by President Jacob Zuma scheduled to coincide with the anniversary as a tribute.

Mandela, who will be 92 in July, has largely retired from public life.