Mandela Celebrates 20 Years of Freedom
South Africa marks 20 years since Mandela walked to freedom
Photo by AP Association Press
PAARL (South Africa) - PROMINENT South Africans gathered at a prison outside Cape Town on Thursday to fete the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from jail, which hastened the demise of apartheid.
At a breakfast organised by the ruling party's former anti-apartheid activists, tycoon and veteran activist Cyril Ramaphosa said Mandela was serene as he prepared to walk out free. 'Here is a man who's about to be released out of prison after 27 years. He was as cool as a cucumber and younger people would say he's a cool cat,' said Mr Ramaphosa, who was part of the team that welcomed Mr Mandela on Feb 11, 1990 as he left the jail.
Mr Ramaphosa told anti-apartheid veterans and government ministers who had gathered at the prison grounds: 'We are celebrating a life that has been lived in service of our people. He knew he needed to continue living for the people that were outside. Without the struggle of our people Madiba would have never been released,' he said, using Mr Mandela's clan name.
Veteran anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada, released four months before Mr Mandela, told journalists he knew Mr Mandela would be freed soon after him. 'It was an emotional moment. When we were released, that was exhilaration, happiness but at the same time sadness that we are released, we came to prison together, and we are leaving him behind,' the 80-year-old said. 'But we knew that once we released that the day is not too far when he is going to join us.'
Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu exhorted South Africans to use the day to remember the long road the country had travelled since. 'The day Nelson Mandela walked free from Victor Verster Prison our collective spirit soared. It was a day that promised the beginning of the end of indignity.'
But Archbishop Tutu, widely hailed as the nation's conscience keeper, said though a lot had been achieved, there was still more to be done. 'If we really want to make a difference we must recapture the spirit of that day of Nelson Mandela's release ... We must not forget the past,' he said. -- AFP
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By Wendell Roelf Wendell Roelf – 2 hrs 11 mins ago
GROOT DRAKENSTEIN, South Africa (Reuters) – Chanting "Viva, Nelson Mandela, Viva," thousands of South Africans marked 20 years on Thursday since the anti-apartheid icon walked to freedom after 27 years as a political prisoner.
Now a frail 91-year-old, Mandela did not attend the celebrations at the Drakenstein Prison near Cape Town, although a huge bronze statue of him marching from jail, fist pumping the air, towered over the crowd much as Mandela's image towers over South African politics and society to this day.
Among the predominantly black crowd of well-wishers waving the black, green and gold flags of Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) were fellow "struggle" heroes present on that momentous Sunday two decades ago.
"It was all a bit chaotic and I must tell you we were unprepared," said millionaire businessman Cyril Ramaphosa -- then a senior mining union and ANC official -- recalling the chaotic scenes that followed Mandela's release.
Unbanned only nine days previously, ANC leaders were given just 24 hours notice to prepare for the release of Mandela, who four years later would become the first black president of a country dominated by a white minority for 300 years.
Ramaphosa and his associates had to fly to Cape Town in specially chartered aircraft, while security outside the prison in the heart of South Africa's winelands was organized by a Catholic priest who knew "nothing about guns."
Rank-and-file ANC members were asked to don suits and look tough to provide a vague semblance of security but minutes after images of a free Mandela were beamed around the world, he was swamped in the melee.
"We lost him along the way," Ramaphosa said with a grin.
Only after a tip-off from a traffic policeman did frantic ANC leaders find Mandela where he was drinking tea with his shoes and socks off at the suburban home of an ANC supporter.
Organizers then escorted him to a podium to deliver his first public words in nearly three decades in front of tens of thousands of people on Cape Town's Grand Parade.
"We finally hoisted him up and he made his speech," Ramaphosa said.
EUPHORIA GIVES WAY TO REALITY
Mandela's push for reconciliation during his 1994-1999 presidency is credited with unifying the racially divided nation and laying the foundations of the democracy that oversees the continent's biggest economy.
"He means a lot to the country, from his release, even still today," said conservationist Elizabeth Davids, 42.
"He freed us all from apartheid. Before we never mixed with each other, coloreds, whites and blacks were separate but now we all mix together and are like one nation."
However, since the euphoria of 1990 and multi-party elections four years later, the reality of dismantling four decades of official -- and many more of unofficial -- apartheid has hit home.
Despite 17 years of economic growth before 2009, unemployment has remained above 20 percent and millions of blacks continue to live in shanty towns with little access to running water, electricity or healthcare.
South Africa's HIV-AIDS infection rate is among the highest in the world.
In power since 1994, the ANC has made some headway in reducing levels of inequality among the highest in the world, and this year's hosting of the soccer World Cup is a symbol of the "new" South Africa growing self-confidence.
But with every passing year, its "liberation struggle" credentials wear thinner as poor black voters -- more and more of whom do not remember apartheid -- demand clean streets and clean politicians.
"I will say thanks to Mandela," said 25-year-old student electrician Richard Ndogeni. "The politicians of today are just eating the money. They are not doing their jobs. They only care about cars and houses, not the people."
(Writing by Ed Cropley, Editing by Marius Bosch and Giles Elgood)
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Submit your comment Nelson Mandela's release from prison 20 years ago Thursday ushered in South Africa's democracy, but an intractable social divide has dimmed the sparkle of the nation's "rainbow miracle". Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) steered the country from the brink of civil war to prospering democracy, in a transformation that will be showcased during the football World Cup this year. But two decades after Mandela walked free, hope and joy at South Africa's emergence from white-minority rule have given way to scrutiny and cynicism as the government has struggled to...
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release from prison of Nelson Mandela, former members of the national reception committee were brought in together in Johannesburg, 04 Feb 2010, by Winnie and Zindzi to reminisce about the event of 11 February 1990, in a round of conversations about that day
South Africans are observing the twenty year anniversary since the country's elder statesman Nelson Mandela walked free from an apartheid prison. The anniversary is being marked with a symbolic march from the prison, speeches, and exhibits at museums.It was a day few South Africans expected to see, Nelson Mandela walking down the road a free man and hand-in-hand with his then wife, Winnie Mandela. He emerged to a rapturous crowd outside the Victor Verster prison not far from Cape Town, with millions across the country and the globe watching the event live on television.
There had been some debate among his ANC handlers that day about where he should make his first address, with many believing it should be in his home town of Soweto. Jay Naidoo, then general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, tells VOA that Mandela chose otherwise."And at the end of all of this debate which he listened very closely to he said, I have been in Cape Town for 27 years, this is the place which has been my home for that 27 years, I will make my first address to the nation here. And that was the end of the debate," he said.And so in the fading light of February 11, 1990, Mr. Mandela came on to the balcony of Cape Town's city hall, and addressed the excited, massed crowd.
He reminded them of his words from the dock in the 1964 trial for sabotage in which he was sentenced to life behind bars."I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die," said Mr. Mandela.
The manner of arriving at the decision that day seems to typify Mr. Mandela's style of leadership. He listens to all sides of a discussion, but then makes up his own mind. But Cyril Ramaphosa, then chairman of the Nelson Mandela Reception Committee, says the former South African president easily brings others around to his point of view.
VOA Photo - D. RobertsonCyril Ramaphosa
Ramaphosa tells VOA that he was part of a delegation that was permitted to meet the jailed leader a few months before his release. Mr. Mandela had begun talks with government leaders and this made leaders of the African National Congress and black trade unions very uncomfortable."We knew that he had started talking to the enemy, and we were going there to tell him to stop this talking to the enemy business, and no sooner had we been in his presence than our resolve melted, it just disappeared because we were in awe, literally in awe of him," said Ramaphosa.Mac Maharaj, currently President Jacob Zuma's special envoy, spent twelve years behind bars with Mr. Mandela. He tells VOA of an incident in prison on Robben Island which he says illustrates another aspect of Mr. Mandela's leadership.The political prisoners were being marched, in rows of four, to work in the limestone quarry, and the guards shouted that they should run. Maharaj says Mr. Mandela told his fellow prisoners to slow right down and quietly moved to the front to set the pace and ensure they did so, despite their fear of a violent reprisal.
"Mandela has a very awkward walk, but I think that day it was the slowest walk of his life," he said. "That demonstrated to me, the epitome of his leadership, he is always ready to take the risk that he asks any of his comrades to take. He is always ready to assess a situation, and understand what it demands, and bend his conduct both his word and his behavior, to suit those needs."
VOA Photo - D. RobertsonAt exhibit at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg to illustrate the size and layout of Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island
The three decades he had been behind bars, his image and voice outlawed by the apartheid government, had forged Mr. Mandela into a myth for most. But Ramaphosa, Mr. Mandela's chief negotiator in the country's democracy talks and the principal architect of South Africa's widely acclaimed constitution, says that on meeting him, myth quickly merged into man."His stature, his mere presence, and that is when I thought that myth and man merged, to be the Nelson Mandela that we finally saw in our presence.
A man of unbelievable resolve; resolve that you picked up as you shook his hand, as you looked straight in his eyes, and as he talked to you," he said.In 1994 after his African National Congress party won an overwhelming victory in the country's first democratic elections, Mr. Mandela became South Africa's first black president. Many promises were made by him and his party to right the wrongs of the past, to give black South Africans equal opportunity, equal education, equal health care, decent homes and jobs - millions of jobs.There has been remarkable progress in some areas, but there have also been real failures, particularly in the past ten years.
A significant black middle class has emerged, and a number of black South Africans are now counted among the country's most wealthy. Blacks are making a significant impact, not only in government posts, but in all sectors of the economy.But while most children now go to school, many schools are failing to give them a good education; many clinics were built in rural areas, but often they are not staffed or not equipped, and the country is reeling under the burden of the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world.South Africans also live under a burden of a very high crime rate, with some 50 reported murders each day and equally high numbers of other violent crimes such as rape and assault.
There are daily reports of corruption at all levels of government. And perceptions of a government beset by corruption were not helped by a seven year corruption investigation against President Jacob Zuma, which was abandoned shortly before the election which brought him to power last year.But perhaps most importantly the economy, which grew well up until the global economic collapse in 2008, has failed to deliver the number of jobs needed to make a significant impact on the levels of poverty. The official jobless rate is 24-percent, and a recent study revealed the country has the widest gap between rich and poor in the world.Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu, who remains one of the country's moral lodestars, says it is time for South Africans to recapture the spirit that prevailed when Mr. Mandela was released and to start making a difference in bringing the fruits of democracy to all South Africans.