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In history
Release of Nelson Mandela (11 February 1990)

Nelson Mandela walked free from the Victor Verster prison (Cape Province) in the early afternoon of Feb. 11. The date of his release had only been announced by President F. W. de Klerk at a news conference on Feb. 10.

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Accompanied by his wife Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela was driven from the prison 60 km to Cape Town along a route lined by thousands of supporters. On the steps of the City Hall he spoke to a crowd of 50,000 who had waited for hours for his appearance.

His first words were a salute to the people of South Africa, to whom he declared: "I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today--I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands." He expressed gratitude to "the millions of my compatriots and those in every corner of the globe who have campaigned tirelessly for my release".

In conclusion he quoted directly from his statement from the dock at the opening of the defence case in the Rivonia trial in 1964 : "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the idea 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 needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

President de Klerk, in a radical speech at the state opening of Parliament on Feb. 2, had surprised supporters and critics alike by announcing not only the impending release of Nelson Mandela, but also the unbanning of the African National Congress (ANC), the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC--the ANC's smaller rival) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). He also lifted some of the restrictions imposed on media reporting and personal freedoms under the state of emergency regulations, and said that the 1953 Reservation of Separate Amenities Act would be repealed during the current session of Parliament.

De Klerk signalled that the government now acknowledged the need to begin talks with leaders of South Africa's majority black population. Announcing that "the time for negotiation has arrived", de Klerk invited representative black leaders to "walk through the open door" and take their place at the negotiating table "together with the government and other leaders who have important power bases inside and outside Parliament".

An increasing number of South Africans now realized, he said, that "only a negotiated understanding between the representative leaders of the entire population can ensure lasting peace", the alternative to which was "growing violence, tension and conflict". The government now sought agreement on "a totally new, just constitutional system in which every inhabitant will enjoy equal rights, treatment and opportunities in every sphere of endeavour: constitutional, social and economic".

De Klerk was now able to claim that there was no longer any justification for violent protest, in view of his invitation "to all leaders who seek peace", along with the lifting of restrictions on political groups, which he said now placed everybody in a position to pursue politics freely.

This article comes from Keesings Worldwide Online

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