South Africans mark 20 years of Freedom of Nelson Mandela

South Africans celebrated 20 years since Nelson Mandela finally left prison and walked out a free man. And what an incredible walk to freedom it has been. Mandela was already an international icon at the time – February 11, 1990 – but he has been one of those rare individuals whose life, spirit and insight have surpassed the image the media had created for him.

Thousands gathered to celebrate and commemorate outside Victor Verster Prison (now Drakenstein), 20 km from Cape Town, where Mandela took those initial steps to freedom two decades ago. Staunch anti-apartheid politician Cyril Ramaphosa, who had led a welcome committee for Mandela in 1990, told Thursday’s crowd that “we knew that his freedom meant that our freedom had also arrived”. Earlier in the day Ramaphosa was joined by other ANC leaders and hundreds of proud South Africans as they symbolically reenacted Mandela’s walk to freedom, with arms linked, chanting ‘Viva Mandela’.

Mandela attended the opening of South Africa’s parliament on Thursday (the same day as his 20-year anniversary) where President Zuma praised him during his speech and called on all South Africans to recommit to Mandela’s ideals of “building a better future for all South Africans, black and white”.


Nelson Mandela celebrated the anniversary of his release with a special dinner attended by, among others, his daughter Zindzi (who filmed the gathering for a documentary ‘Conversations About That Day’), his grandchildren, ex-wife Winne and one of his former jailers whom he befriended, Christo Brand. Mandela said of their friendship that it “reinforced my belief in the essential humanity of even those who had kept me behind bars”. Madiba (91) also said that he still exercises but that he does “feel like I am getting old. Time is flying. I’m not really worried.”

The video below starts with an old British ITN report, broadcast during the Apartheid era, and includes an interview with Madiba pre-jail; as well as some footage of the recent anniversary dinner.


Some quick refresher facts:

  • In the early ’60s, Nelson Mandela headed Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), which was the ANC’s armed wing.
  • Mandela was arrested by South African police on August 5, 1962 after a tipoff from the CIA.
  • He spent 27 years in jail.
  • Mandela was sent to Robben Island for 18 years.
  • He was then sent to  Pollsmoor Prison and later to Victor Verster Prison (now Drakenstein Prison) after fears that he had too much of an ideological influence on the younger inmates.
  • President F.W. de Klerk announced Mandela’s impending release on February 2, 1990. (He also reversed the ban on the ANC.)
  • He was President of South Africa from 10 May 1994 – 14 June 1999
  • Mandela and de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
  • In 2008, a 3-metre high bronze statue, depicting Mandela’s first steps as a free man, was erected at Victor Verster Prison.
  • Mandela will turn 92 on the 18th of July.

Three Mandela Quotes We Love:

  • “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”
  • “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”
  • “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same”

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