Chanting "Viva, Nelson Mandela, Viva!!"
thousands of South Africans marked 20 years on Thursday since the anti-apartheid
icon walked to freedom after 27 years as a political
Now a frail
91-year-old, Mandela did not attend the celebrations at the Drakenstein Prison
near Cape Town, although a huge bronze statue of him marching from jail, fist
pumping the air, towered over the crowd much as Mandela's image towers over
South African politics and society to this day.
Among the predominantly
black crowd of well-wishers waving the black, green and gold flags of Mandela's
African National Congress (ANC) were fellow "struggle" heroes present on that
momentous Sunday two decades ago. "It was all a bit chaotic and I must tell you
we were unprepared," said millionaire businessman Cyril Ramaphosa—then a senior
mining union and ANC official—recalling the chaotic scenes that followed
only nine days previously, ANC leaders were given just 24 hours' notice to
prepare for the release of Mandela, who four years later would become the first
black president of a country dominated by a white minority for 300
Ramaphosa and his associates had to fly to Cape Town in specially
chartered aircraft, while security outside the prison in the heart of South
Africa's winelands was organised by a Catholic priest who knew "nothing about
Rank-and-file ANC members were asked to don suits and look tough
to provide a vague semblance of security, but minutes after images of a free
Mandela were beamed around the world, he was swamped in the melee.
lost him along the way," Ramaphosa said with a grin.
Only after a
tip-off from a traffic policeman did frantic ANC leaders find Mandela, where he
was drinking tea with his shoes and socks off at the suburban home of an ANC
Organisers then escorted him to a podium to deliver his first
public words in nearly three decades in front of tens of thousands of people on
Cape Town's Grand Parade.
"We finally hoisted him up and he made his
speech," Ramaphosa said.
way to reality
push for reconciliation during his 1994 to 1999 presidency is credited with
unifying the racially divided nation and laying the foundations of the democracy
that oversees the continent's biggest economy.
"He means a lot to the
country, from his release, even still today," said conservationist Elizabeth
"He freed us all from apartheid. Before we never mixed with
each other, coloureds, whites and blacks were separate but now we all mix
together and are like one nation."
However, since the euphoria of 1990
and multiparty elections four years later, the reality of dismantling four
decades of official -- and many more of unofficial -- apartheid has hit
Despite 17 years of economic growth before 2009, unemployment has
remained above 20% and millions of black people continue to live in shantytowns
with little access to running water, electricity or healthcare.
Africa's HIV/Aids rate is among the highest in the world.
In power since
1994, the ANC has made some headway in reducing levels of inequality among the
highest in the world, and this year's hosting of the Soccer World Cup is a
symbol of the "new" South Africa's growing self-confidence.
every passing year, its "liberation struggle" credentials wear thinner as poor
black voters -- more and more of whom do not remember apartheid -- demand clean
streets and clean politicians.
"I will say thanks to Mandela," said
25-year-old student electrician Richard Ndogeni. "The politicians of today are
just eating the money. They are not doing their jobs. They only care about cars
and houses, not the people."
'Legacy of FW de
racism, unemployment and the housing shortage were all the legacy of former
state president FW de Klerk, ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema said on
Thursday at the celebrations.
It was De Klerk, as head of state, who took
the decision in 1990 to free Mandela after 27 years behind bars.
Malema said the former National Party leader, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize
with Mandela, was neither a hero nor an icon.
"De Klerk never released
Mandela ... De Klerk must never be celebrated.
"De Klerk is a product of
apartheid. De Klerk sponsored black-on-black violence. De Klerk sponsored the
IFP to kill our people in KwaZulu-Natal."
He said De Klerk had never
loved the people of South Africa.
"Racism is the legacy of De Klerk.
Unemployment is the legacy of De Klerk. Shortage of houses is the legacy of De
Klerk. De Klerk must never be compared with Mandela." — Reuters,