Twenty years on, S.Africans fete Mandela’s release |

February 11, 2010 by Post Team 

Twenty years on, S.Africans fete Mandela’s release |, South Africa — Prominent South Africans gathered at a prison outside Cape Town Thursday to fete the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from jail, which hastened the demise of apartheid.

At a breakfast organised by the ruling party’s former anti-apartheid activists, tycoon and veteran activist Cyril Ramaphosa said Mandela was serene as he prepared to walk free.

“Here is a man who’s about to be released out of prison after 27 years. He was as cool as a cucumber and younger people would say he’s a cool cat,” said Ramaphosa, who was part of the team that welcomed Mandela on February 11, 1990 as he left the jail.

Ramaphosa told anti-apartheid veterans and government ministers who had gathered at the prison grounds: “We are celebrating a life that has been lived in service of our people.

“He knew he needed to continue living for the people that were outside. Without the struggle of our people, Madiba would have never been released,” he said, using Mandela’s clan name.

Veteran anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada, released four months before Mandela, told journalists he knew Mandela would be freed soon after him.

“It was an emotional moment. When we were released, that was exhilaration, happiness but at the same time sadness that we are released, we came to prison together, and we are leaving him behind,” the 80-year-old said.

“But we knew that once we were released that the day is not too far when he is going to join us.”

Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu exhorted South Africans to use the day to remember the long road the country had travelled since.

“The day Nelson Mandela walked free from Victor Verster Prison our collective spirit soared. It was a day that promised the beginning of the end of indignity.”

But Tutu, widely hailed as the nation’s conscience keeper, said though a lot had been achieved, there was still more to be done.

“If we really want to make a difference we must recapture the spirit of that day of Nelson Mandela?s release … We must not forget the past,” he said.

The 91-year-old will take centre stage when he arrives in parliament around 7:00pm (1700 GMT), his only public commemoration of the day in 1990 when he emerged from 27 years behind bars.

South African President Jacob Zuma will be looking to bask in the glow of the anniversary as he delivers his speech to a nation up in arms over the latest scandal over his personal life.

For the last 12 days, newspapers, radio and sidewalk chatter have centred on a four-month-old baby fathered by the 67-year-old president with the daughter of a top World Cup organiser who is not among the polygamist’s three current wives nor his fiancee.

Zuma said on Saturday that he “regretted” the pain that the lovechild scandal had caused the nation, but newspapers editorials have continued to denounce the president’s behaviour, which critics say makes a mockery of South Africa’s efforts to fight AIDS.

With Mandela sitting nearby, Zuma is expected to tap into the optimism of two decades ago, while giving a frank roadmap of the way forward in the year South Africa hosts the football World Cup.

Zuma campaigned in last year’s general elections with promises to fight poverty in a nation where the gap between rich and poor has become the widest in the world.

The hope and joy that greeted Mandela’s release and the first elections four years later have given way to scrutiny and cynicism as the government has struggled to meet expectations, especially of the poor,anlysts say.

Since the ANC won the first all-race elections 16 years ago, South Africa has seen huge strides in housing, electricity and sanitation and a growing black middle class.

But unemployment remains officially at nearly 25 percent, some 5.7 million of South Africa’s 48 million people have HIV, and crime averages 50 killings a day.

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