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From the Archives, 1990: Nelson Mandela walks free

Hand-in-hand with his wife Winnie, the 7I-year-old leader of the African National Congress walked with a slight limp to greet an exuberant crowd of about 6000 supporters who had gathered outside.

Smiling and raising his fists in salute to the crowd, Mr. Mandela walked slowly, his supporters responding by waving the black green and gold flags of the ANC.

Almost simultaneously in central Cape Town, police with shotguns fired on a huge crowd of supporters waiting to greet him at a rally, after blacks smashed windows and looted shops, witnesses said. Display windows in department stores at the side of the square were smashed and piles of clothes dumped on the footpath. Looters squabbled over the pickings before fleeing into the crowd.

Hundreds of people fled the square, where tens of thousands of ANC supporters had gathered to hear Mr. Mandela’s first public address for 30 years.

Nelson Mandela arrives at Melbourne Town Hall on a tour of Australia in 1990.

Nelson Mandela arrives at Melbourne Town Hall on a tour of Australia in 1990.Credit:Craig Golding

He had not reached the rally when the looting and shooting started.

Mr. Mandela had been in prison for 27 years on charges of having plotted to overthrow the country’s white rulers.

In Cape Town, busloads of chanting, singing and dancing ANC supporters crowded into the Grand Parade, a large open-air parking and marketplace across the road from the city hall.

Groups of flag-waving supporters, including some young whites, danced and sang around the parade, most of them wearing specially-made T-shirts with a huge picture of Mr. Mandela imprinted on the front and proclaiming “Welcome home”.

Arrangements at the city hall reflected the dramatic changes that have swept through South Africa in the past 10 days. Two huge African National Congress banners hung from the historic building.

Nelson Mandela with Prime Minister Bob Hawke at a press conference in Canberra during Mandela's Australian visit.

Nelson Mandela with Prime Minister Bob Hawke at a press conference in Canberra during Mandela’s Australian visit.Credit:Peter Cox

One banner hung from the balcony where Mr. Mandela was to speak.

After days of hurricane-force winds in Cape Town, the weather moderated as the hour of Mr. Mandela’s release drew nearer. The wind dropped to a mere breeze and the summer sun rapidly pushed the temperature to more than 30 degrees.

At the prison police mounted a massive security operation from early yesterday. Roadblocks manned by police and soldiers were in place from sunrise on all roads leading to the prison. Mr. Mandela finally appeared at 4.15pm Sunday local time.

Since the announcement that he would be released, at least 14 people have died and more than 100 have been hurt in violence and clashes throughout the country, police said.

In the worst clash, five blacks died and more than 50 were hurt when police and jubilant ANC supporters fought through the streets of Thokoza township, east of Johannesburg, last night.

Mr. De Klerk announced the release to the media in Cape Town on Saturday: “Yesterday evening. I met with Mr. Mandela in Cape Town, together with ministers (Gerrit) Viljoen (Minister of Constitutional Planning and Development) and (Kobie) Coetsee (Minister of Justice). During the meeting, Mr. Mandela was informed of the Government’s decision regarding his release.

“The eyes of the world are presently focused on all South Africans. All of us now have an opportunity and the responsibility to prove that we are capable of a peaceful process in creating a new South Africa.”

Mr. De Klerk said the announcement was the end of “a long chapter” that had begun with Mr. Mandela’s first meeting with the former President, Mr. P. W. Botha, in June last year.

The President of the United States, Mr. Bush, telephoned Mr. De Klerk and pledged “US willingness to help create a climate for negotiations” between the nation’s white minority leadership and its black majority.


Mr. Bush invited Mr. De Klerk to the White House and said Mr. Mandela would also be invited.

The British Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, praised Mr. De Klerk for his “wise decision” and for “other bold and courageous steps”.

An invitation to Mr. Mandela to visit Britain is expected. Mr. De Klerk has already accepted an invitation to have talks with Mrs. Thatcher.

South Africa’s right-wing Conservative Party lashed out at the release of Mr. Mandela. A party spokesman, Mr. Koos van der Merwe, said: “This is a knockout for Mr. Mandela — Mr. De Klerk is being carried out on a stretcher.”

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