The day a country was set free

Nelson Rolihlala Mandela was released from Victor-Verster prison on the 11th of February 1990 in what would be one of the most significant days in South African History. With his wife by his side and fist, a symbol of fortitude and resilience raised high, the then 71 year old and “once most wanted man in Africa” marched into freedom as his country soon would. Apartheid was a period between 1948 and 1994 which saw the implementation of institutionalised racism under the National party. Its laws not only segregated the citizens of the now “Rainbow Nation” but it belittled people of colour to the point were they were not considered part of South Africa. They lived in “Bantustans” and had to carry passes that permitted them to work in the cities. A strikingly similar mirror to the injustices experienced in the Civil Rights Movement, Apartheid saw many atrocities, moments of heroism and the fighting spirit of an oppressed people.

The resistance campaigns against the Apartheid Government:

Affectionately known as Madiba, Nelson Mandela had spent the last twenty seven years, eighteen of which spent at Robben Island, imprisoned under the law of the authoritarian Apartheid state. Appointed as deputy national president of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1952, the South African educated lawyer and former boxer fought tooth and nail alongside the likes of Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Albert Luthuli (ANC President 1952) in non-violent resistance campaigns against the Apartheid government’s legalised segregation of South Africa. His role changed in 1960, after the horrific events witnessed in a little mining town called Sharpeville. Police fired on peaceful protesters as they demonstrated  against the pass laws, with 250 people being killed and wounded most of whom were shot in the back as they fled. From then on Madiba co-ordinated the paramilitary branch MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe or the Spear of the Nation) of the ANC which undertook destructive raids against the Apartheid Government. These covert operations were never aimed to hurt human life, but rather the destruction of electrical pylons and phone lines. In 1963, at Liliesleaf farm in Rivonia, Johannesburg at a meeting of the MK High command, South African Police raided the house and arrested all leaders (some of whom were white) except Mandela who had been imprisoned since 5 August 1962. All members were sentenced to life Imprisonment on accounts of treason, sabotage, furthering the objectives of communism and training persons in the use of explosives.

The Fight for Equality:

The 1970s and 1980s were periods characterised by protest and uprising both internally and throughout the world. The Soweto Uprising of 1976 saw the fight for equal education and throughout the 80’s, economic and sporting sanctions created a wave of protest against the human rights abomination that was Apartheid. In 1989, F.W. de Klerk was appointed as president and began to dismantle the structure of this segregated society. He unbanned the ANC and in 1990 ordered the release of Nelson Mandela.

Freedom is returned to the Rainbow Nation:

On the day of release, Mandela acknowledged de Klerk “as a man of integrity”, high praise from someone who turned down early release as a result of the conditions that came with it. The crowd of ecstatic South Africans to which he spoke was amassed at 50 000. The City hall was draped in now Legal ANC regalia and the central square known as the Grande Parade was a dance floor of lively South Africans. Before his arrival on stage and due to the short notice the crowd turned violent and clashed with police but it was Mandela that calmed them and like obedient children to a respected father, they listened. Madiba, father of a nation, enforced the notion that the struggle for freedom was not over and to stop the fight would dismantle all the efforts of the past. His speech started with the words “I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all”, for he had fought against black and white domination and for the freedom of a nation. The period between his release and his presidency was a time of turmoil in South Africa as black on black violence and police authority devastated a nation, with thousands of  lives being taken. The silver lining of events was the unbanning of  organisations, the release of political prisoners and the joint Noble Peace prize awarded to de Klerk and Mandela in 1993. The ANC and Mandela were voted into power in April 1994. The first democratic elections and the beginning of a new era for this diverse nation.

The day of Mandela’s release was the beginning of freedom: freedom of an individual, a race and country. His struggle was not his own but the struggle of a people and the concept of equality. Joined by the masses and president de Klerk the efforts of 42 years finally paid off on 11 February 1990.

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