President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday marked the 30th anniversary of the release of former president Nelson Mandela by addressing the nation at the Grand Parade in Cape Town, on the same balcony where Madiba stood in 1990.
“Thirty years ago we stood here ... He [Mandela] stood here to speak and I held a microphone as he spoke for the very first time. It was here when we received Nelson Mandela and celebrated his release from prison,” Ramaphosa said, pointing out the Madiba statue next to him.
Mandela was released on this day from a 27-year long incarceration under the apartheid regime.
In the week prior, then president FW de Klerk also announced the unbanning of the ANC, SACP, Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and other political organisations.
Read: Memories of February 2 1990
Ramaphosa said February 11 will forever be remembered as one of the “most memorable days in the history of the world”.
“It was the day that dramatically changed the course of the history of our country ... It was an emotional moment when uTata uMadiba walked out of Victor Vester Prison as a free man after 27 years of lonely and painful years of imprisonment,” he said.
Ramaphosa told the hundreds sitting in the parade that this day represented a new hope “even though we did not know what the future looked like”.
“All that mattered for all of us was that our freedom had finally arrived. The day Mandela was released is the day that we all knew that apartheid was dead, it was finish and klaar.”
“It was you,” he added, “the people of our country who had ensured Nelson Mandela was freed from prison. It was through your struggles in the underground, through mass mobilisation, in your various organisations, unions and churches. It was also through the armed struggle and international solidarity. It was the people of this country who had finally achieved their victory.”
“It was not out of the kindness of FW de Klerk’s heart. It was not because he felt sorry for Nelson Mandela ... It was because of the pressure and the struggles the people of the country waged to enable Mandela to be released. It was your victory,” he said.
De Klerk, who had been president for a few months at the time, had said: “The time for negotiation has arrived.” And that was the beginning of the end of apartheid.
Ramaphosa said he was pleased to see that young people had come out in their numbers to remember this day.
“You are the generation born from democracy. You have grown up with the story of uTata uMadiba, learned about him in school and even seen him on television. I will tell you that on that day 30 years ago, these steps were also full of young South Africans like you,” he said.
Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel listens as South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks. Picture: Sumaya Hisham/Reuters
He applauded the older generations for keeping the name of Madiba alive.
“You are the ones who hid his banned writings in your homes and shared them with others to keep his memory alive,” Ramaphosa said.
He reminisced aboutr the moment Mandela stood on the balcony to address the crowd.
“Exhilaration, excitement, anticipation, fear, relief, joy – perhaps all of these were wrapped into one, but nothing could describe the moment when the microphone crackled to life and a hush came over the crowd,” he recalled.
“That was the moment when everyone was waiting to hear Nelson Mandela’s very first words. And when he uttered the famous words: ‘I stand before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you the people.’”
Ramaphosa said the crowd burst into applause as “some were hearing his voice for the first time”.
“We will forever remember those first words of this great man, this great symbol of resistance, and of the inhumane regime of apartheid,” he said.
Ramaphosa concluded his speech by encouraging the nation to keep Mandela’s memory alive.
“Let us as the custodians of the memory of Madiba continue to ensure that his name evokes unity of purpose and rejuvenates new patriotism among us,” he said.