The day Nelson Mandela was released from prison [photos]

South Africa News

While the day has become a footnote in the history of the country for those who lived through the early 90s, it was possibly one of the most memorable moments of their lives.

The 1994 elections brought an official end to the ruthless reign of the apartheid era, and in many ways, the election was ceremonial. It was a moment to enjoy and cherish.

Mandela’s release, on the other hand, was something else entirely. As a country in the grips of a civil war, Mandela’s release flooded South African hearts with relief and joy; or terror, depending on where your allegiance was during the civil war.

Nelson Mandela, let us not forget, without saying a word to the outside world for some 27 years as he served his sentence on Robben Island, had become elevated to mythical status.

“Free Nelson Mandela” was the rallying cry of the protesters in townships and opponents of apartheid around the globe alike.

Nelson Mandela timeline
Image credit: AFP

So when it was announced that he was to be released, that was the victory in the civil war. In a decades-long struggle against the apartheid regime, the end was finally in sight.

On 11 February 1990, Mandela left Victor Verster prison. Several hours later, he made his way to the podium at the Grand Parade grounds outside Cape Town’s city hall.

There, 100 000 people waited to hear the voice that had been silenced for 27 years too long. Most of the gathered crowd had never heard Mandela speak before. In a speech frequently drowned out by the roars from the crowd, Mandela said:

“Comrades and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom. I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you the people. Today, the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognise that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our decisive mass action. We have waited too long for our freedom.”

Nelson Mandela’s Timeline: In Photos:

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Nelson Mandela, pictured in the early 1960s, before he was sentenced in 1964 to life in prison for sabotage. The government did not release photos of Mandela during his many years in prison, and few people knew what he looked like at the time of his release. Reuters /Landov
Nelson mandela release
Several hours after his release from prison, Nelson Mandela made his first speech on the balcony of Cape Town’s City Hall. As he prepared to speak, he realized he had left his glasses in the prison. So he borrowed a pair from his wife Winnie. 11 February 1990. Udo Weitz/AP
Nelson Mandela
Taken in 1991 in Houston, Texas, when the Rothko Chapel marked its 20th anniversary with a joint award with the Carter-Menil Human Rights Foundation, founded in 1986 with former President Jimmy Carter. Nelson Mandela was the keynote speaker and received the special Rothko Chapel award. Personal collection of Senator Rodney Ellis. (Wikimedia Commons.)
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Frederik de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shake hands at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum held in Davos in January 1992. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/World Economic Forum
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F.W. de Klerk, left, the last president of apartheid-era South Africa, and Nelson Mandela, his successor, wait to speak in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1993. Photo taken by Carol M. Highsmith.
Nelson Mandela
This is the official photo of Mandela casting his vote in the April 1994 elections. It was the first time Mandela had voted in his life. It was taken at Ohlange School, Inanda, Durban by the IEC’s official photographer, Paul Weinberg. It is one of only two images of this event. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Paul Weinberg
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President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela with members of the Congressional Black Caucus including Representative Kweisi Mfume, at an event at the Library of Congress. October 1994. Image credit:
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Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (2nd from left) thanks Nelson Mandela (3rd from right) for meeting with him and members of his delegation at Mandela’s home in the village of Qunu, near the town of Umtata, Eastern Cape, South Africa, on Feb. 16, 2000. Also attending the meeting were (L to R in the back row): Capt. Dusty Higgs, South African Navy, military attaché at the Embassy of South Africa in Washington, D. C.; Mrs. Lewis with her husband U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Delano Eugene Lewis, Sr., Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Bernd McConnell, and Mrs. Janet Langhart Cohen. DoD photo by R. D. Ward. (Released)
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6th April 2000 Visit of Nelson Mandela to give a lecture at LSE on ‘Africa and Its Position in the World.’ Held at the Peacock Theatre. Image credit: Flickr/LSE Library
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President George W. Bush greets former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa in the Oval Office Tuesday, May 17, 2005. White House photo by Eric Draper. Image link.
Nelson Mandela
Mandela casts his vote in 2011 Local Government Elections, 16 May 2011 Former President Nelson Mandela shares a light moment with IEC Chairperson Brigalia Bam before casting his special vote for the 2011 Local Government Elections. Image credit: Flickr/GovernmentZA
Nelson Mandela
First Lady Michelle Obama meets with former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa at his home in Houghton, South Africa, June 21, 2011. Mrs. Obama viewed items from President Mandela’s archives earlier during a tour of the Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)
Nelson Mandela
The iconic Mandela Capture Site outside Howick. Nelson Mandela was arrested at the site in 1962, and faced charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government. He spent 27 years incarcerated in Robin Island. (Photo: KwaZulu-Natal) Flickr/GovernmentZA

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