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Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Des Van Rooyen. Picture Credit: Gallo Images
Van Rooyen suddenly withdraws his interdict

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defining moment for SA'S POLITICS

By Don Makatile | Feb 02, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

OF THOSE Americans who were alive on April 4 1968, many can still give a minute-by-minute account of their whereabouts and movements on that day.

Some will even tell you what they were doing at exactly 6.01pm - the very minute the shot that killed human rights activist Dr Martin Luther King Jnr rang out.

I was doing the dishes ...

King was felled by that single sniper's bullet as he stood on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. A gaping wound covered a large portion of his jaw and neck, said reports at the time.

In the South African context, February 11 1990 - the day Nelson Mandela walked out of prison a free man after 27 years, holds almost the same historical allure.

But the prelude to this watershed moment engraved in the collective memory of the nation happened on this day 20 years ago.

"The prohibition of the ANC, the Pan Africanist Congress, the South African Communist Party and a number of subsidiary organisations is being rescinded."

This was said by the apartheid South Africa's last president FW de Klerk in his speech at the opening of Parliament, catching white South Africa by surprise.

Nine days later, Mandela would walk hand in hand with his erstwhile wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela out of Victor Verster Prison.

In many households - and offices - this picture contends for pride of place on the wall with the Last Supper, Mona Lisa or whatever artefacts people adorn their spaces with.

When De Klerk said: "... People serving prison sentence merely because they were members of one of these organisations or because they committed another offence which was merely an offence because a prohibition on one of the organisations was in force, will be identified and released..." he must have been met with stony silence from his lily-white audience but as surely as, in a phrase, the sun rises from the east and sets in the west, he set off rapturous applause in townships.

It is for this reason that many will never forget this day in 1990, which fell on a Friday. Did you break your favourite piece of fine china on hearing the news?

Writer and academic Luli Callinicos is the author of The World That Made Mandela.

"I was in my office at Wits University and someone from the politics department came through the door to ask if I'd heard the news."

Callinicos, who says she has vivid memories of the day, recalls asking that very person: "Has it happened?"

Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille was in Harare in Zimbabwe "sent by the PAC to arrange a meeting between the internal wing and the external wing" of the party.

Businesswoman Dr Namane Magau was at Harvard University:

"I never forget that day. It was a defining moment. As international students, we were treated as something special. It was very exciting."

Meshack Mavuso, who is Vusi Moletsane on Isidingo, admits that he was "young and full of energy" at the time and didn't know what the fuss was all about.

News editor of Sowetan at the time, publisher Thami Mazwai says he was at his desk "as usual": "I was astounded by the news."

While imbongi Zolani Mkiva asks: "Is it when De Klerk spoke", when the question was posed to him. He was president of the SRC at St John's College in Mthatha. "We broke into song after school. Then it became a huge song and dance thing."

Another high school pupil at the time, at Thulare Secondary School in Soweto, Orlando Pirates spokesperson Mickey Modisane did pretty much what his peers in Mthatha were doing on the day: "There was jubilation; we all went out and marched, singing."

In the Big Apple at the time of the major announcement, a city said to be so big one has to mention it twice - New York, New York, veteran playwright Welcome Msomi's response is in keeping with this "big" thinking: "I know, I know," he says about his whereabouts, "I was in New York."

Says Msomi, known for his adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth to isiZulu, uMabatha: "My reaction was that 'forget it, it won't happen'. I even thought one would never come back (home from exile). To be honest, I did not believe it."

Songstress Abigail Kubeka was in afternoon rehearsals for the Broadway musical Ain't Misbehavin' at the Pieter Toerien Theatre, she recalls. "When we heard the news we got very excited."

But like many people who had been deflated a good many times by unkept apartheid promises she felt "we'll just have to wait and see".

IFP secretary general the Reverend Musa Zondi says: "I was sitting glued to the television screen in anticipation of the announcement regarding the release of the great man.

"One could not believe that a National Party leader could cross the Rubicon that many before him had failed to."

Through the words of then party father, OR Tambo, the ANC would say: "We welcome the lifting of the bans on the ANC and other organisations. We also welcome other positive measures announced by FW de Klerk such as the suspension of the death sentence, the release of some political prisoners, the ending of media restrictions and the lifting of restrictions on ex-detainees."

"We are, however, gravely concerned that the Pretoria regime has taken the decision that some political prisoners will not be released, that the State of Emergency is not lifted in its entirety and that the practice of detention without trial will continue."

In time, all would turn out well, as many would remember.


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