Thu Oct 27 07:15:51 SAST 2016

Mandela set SA on a path to peace

By unknown | Feb 09, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Nelson Mandela walked out of prison 20 years ago on February 11 1990, beginning South Africa's march to democracy and reconciliation that made him one of the world's great statesmen.

Nelson Mandela walked out of prison 20 years ago on February 11 1990, beginning South Africa's march to democracy and reconciliation that made him one of the world's great statesmen.

Now 91 years old and frail, he gives only occasional video addresses, most recently for the draw of the World Cup, which he lobbied to bring to South Africa.

When he does appear in public, he leans on his wife Graça Machel or on aides to walk. But in the popular consciousness, Mandela remains the towering figure who appeared with arms outstretched from Cape Town's city hall to greet the 50000 people clamouring to see him after his 27-year imprisonment.

"I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all," he said then, in a speech broadcast across the globe.

"Our struggle has reached a decisive moment," he said. "We call on our people to seize this moment so that the process towards democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. We have waited too long for our freedom."

Four years later, he became president, setting SA on a course toward reconciliation by restoring dignity to the black majority and reassuring whites they had nothing to fear from change.

"When he emerged from prison, people discovered that he was all the things they had hoped for and more," said fellow Nobel prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

"He is by far the most admired and revered statesman in the world and one of the greatest human beings to walk this earth."

Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela was born in Mvezo village in the Transkei. He is the great-grandson of a Thembu king. He was given his English name Nelson by a teacher at his school.

An activist since his student days at Fort Hare University College, Mandela opened the first black law firm in Johannesburg in 1952, along with Oliver Tambo.

He became commander-in-chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961, and the following year underwent military training outside the country.

After more than a year underground, Mandela was captured and sentenced in 1964 to life in prison during the Rivonia Trial, where he delivered a speech that was to become the manifesto of the anti-apartheid movement.

"During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society ...

"It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Mandela was jailed on Robben Island for 18 years before being transferred in 1982 to Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town and later to Victor Verster prison in Paarl.

As international sanctions mounted, then-president PW Botha was replaced in 1989 by FW de Klerk, who a year later ordered Mandela's release. Mandela and De Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Mandela embodied the hopes of a nation in April 1994 when he voted for the first time in his life.

In office, he used his keen sense of the power of symbolism to further his drive for reconciliation, famously having tea with the widow of apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd, and donning the Springbok rugby jersey to congratulate the mainly white team's victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

He served only one five-year term, but later devoted his energy to mediating conflicts in Africa.

In 1998, on his 80th birthday, Mandela, after having divorced Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, married Machel, the widow of Samora Machel. - Sapa-AFP


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