Cape Town celebrates the 30th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years!


Yesterday it was the 30th anniversary of the release of the late Nelson Mandela, after being incarcerated in three prisons in Cape Town and Paarl over a period of 27 years. The celebration of the anniversary of the monumental event on 11 February 1990 is a memory for many of us Capetonians who stood outside the City Hall, to hear Mandela address us on that day. The anniversary celebrations took place inside and outside the Cape Town City Hall yesterday. For many it was a sad reminder that much of South Africa remains divided, perhaps more so than it was on this date 30 years ago. 

I walked with German tourists around the city centre yesterday, and we saw the preparations for the  event, with the setting up of a stage outside the City Hall on Darling Street, and sound equipment being carried inside through a side door. I had not seen any information on Social Media as to what was planned to celebrate this auspicious date, so had to assume that all celebration events were by invitation only. So I checked on Google as to how the anniversary was celebrated. 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife Leah issued a media statement in honour of the anniversary. They wrote: ‘Nelson Mandela emerged from prison to dazzle South Africa and the world with his warmth and human values. Circumstances and priorities change over time, but good values don’t go out of fashion. We miss him. Love and blessings’.

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed a celebration crowd from the balcony on which Mandela had made his speech 30 years ago, saying that Mandela’s speech then ‘birthed a nation’. Millions of our people continue to live in poverty … the divide between haves and have-nots continues to widen’, he said. He spoke about the release of former President Mandela as ‘a defining moment in our onward march toward democracy.’ But he added: “inequality, especially as defined by race and gender, remains among the highest in the world. Unemployment is deepening and poverty is widespread. Violence, including the violence that men perpetrate against women, continues to ravage our communities.’ Ramaphosa urged South Africans to take inspiration from Mandela’s legacy to work together to help solve these problems.

Former President FW de Klerk emphasized the challenges that South Africa faces, including “inadequate education, health and municipal services,” and “unacceptable levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment. South Africa in 2020 is emphatically on the wrong road: it is headed not toward a ‘New Dawn’ but toward very dark and threatening storm clouds’, encouraging our population to follow Mandela’s example, and ”return to the road of freedom, toleration and non-racialism.”

Mandela’s grandson Mandla, an ANC Member of Parliament, was harsh in his criticism of how far the country had slid from the first words of a free Mandela, and his actions: ‘I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.’

Mandla Mandela said that the country had to ‘reflect and ponder on the road we have travelled and how far we have reached on the long walk to freedom’. He added that our country ‘lacks a culture of service or being a servant of the people. In its place we have demagogues who regard themselves as superior to the people; who regard the people as their subjects and election fodder. We need to deeply reflect on this reality.  One of the first acts Madiba publicly announced was a cut in his Presidential salary. Today, public office bearers insist on driving the best cars, living in the most luxurious … mansions and enjoying the most opulent lifestyles. What happened to being a humble servant of the people?  It is no small wonder that we are faced with the pandemic of corruption for the goal is self-aggrandisement at the expense of the people. No political office-bearer or community leader made it to high office through their own ballot or by their own strengths. We can overcome all obstacles and achieve the vision of a united, free, non-racial, non-sexist and just South Africa in which all can enjoy prosperity and a better life for all’, Mandla Mandela concluded.

The anniversary celebration yesterday was a three-pronged affair: 

#  in the morning the National Reception Committee (prominent anti-apartheid activists who prepared the release of Nelson Mandela from prison) met at Drakenstein Correctional Centre outside Franschhoek for a celebratory Breakfast. 

#  at midday a lecture inside the City Hall on ‘Prisons in Africa’ by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. (One wonders why a South African speaker was not selected). 

#  address by President Cyril Ramaphosa in the early afternoon on the balcony of the City Hall. 

Reading these media statements and reports, and looking st the program of yesterday’s events, it is sad that the nation was not involved in celebrating this special day, and that it did not have the same aura and excitement as I remember it from thirty years ago. 


Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein


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