We've got news for you.

Register on SowetanLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

28 years today that Mandela walked free

Nelson Mandela was accompanied by his wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela when he was released from Victor Verster prison in Paarl on February 11 1990. /ALEXANDER JOE / AFP
Nelson Mandela was accompanied by his wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela when he was released from Victor Verster prison in Paarl on February 11 1990. /ALEXANDER JOE / AFP

Today marks 28 years since Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Mandela, who was one of the most prominent political prisoners to be incarcerated on Robben Island following the Rivonia Trial of 1963-64, spent 27 years in jail before he was released in 1990.

As part of commemorating the historic day, we have chosen some extracts from one of his latest books, Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years, which was launched late last year.

The book was written by Mandela but, because of his heavy public schedule since he was released from prison, he died before completing it.

His family and the Nelson Mandela Foundation then asked award-winning author and freedom fighter Mandla Langa to take Mandela's 7000-word, handwritten, incomplete manuscript and weave it into a book.

Langa, speaking at the book's launch in Rosebank last year, said he then perused libraries, Mandela's speeches from the time he was released from prison, and other archives, to piece it together.

Here is an edited extract from the book:

The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 was an international story that almost overshadowed a major domestic development that had occurred a month earlier.

On October 15 1989, Walter Sisulu was released from prison together with Raymond Mhlaba, Wilton Mkwayi, Oscar Mpetha, Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni and Elias Motsoaledi.

Mandela had prevailed on the authorities to release the men in Pollsmoor and on Robben Island as a demonstration of good intent. The negotiations for their release had started with Mandela and [then president] PW Botha, and had stalled when, according to Niël Barnard, former head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), due to 'strong antagonisms in the SSC [State Security Council] these plans [to release Sisulu in March 1989] were put on the back burner'.

The release left Mandela with mixed emotions: elation at the freeing of his compatriots and sadness at his own solitude. But he knew that his turn was coming in a few months.

On 2 February 1990, FW de Klerk stood up in parliament and announced the unbanning of the ANC, the PAC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and about 30 other outlawed political organisations.

De Klerk's government had wanted to release Mandela much earlier, and certainly without fanfare, to his home in Soweto, but Mandela had baulked.

He wanted to be released in Cape Town where he could thank the people of the city before going home: 'I was saying that I want to be released at the gate of Victor Verster. From there I'll look after myself. You have no right to say I should be taken to Johannesburg. I want to be released here. And so eventually they agreed to release me at the gate of Victor Verster.'

One of his regrets, while cameras clicked and the crowds were in rhapsodies over his release on the afternoon of February 11 1990, was that he had not been able to say goodbye to the prison staff.

To him they were more than an assemblage of uniformed functionaries at the sharp end of an unjust regime; they were people with families, who, like everyone else, had anxieties about life.

Mandela understood the dilemma that his release posed for both the government and the ANC as a measure of the complexity of the road ahead.

On the journey out of Victor Verster he had already told himself that his life's mission was 'to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both'.

On February 11 1990, Mandela stepped out of the gates of Victor Verster Prison in full view of a global TV audience. Eventually, in the early evening, Mandela . greeted the expectant multitude in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all

Reprinted with permission from the publisher

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.