Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Twenty Years


Twenty years ago today, Nelson Mandela walked free. I was twenty-one, and had lived my entire life under a repressive regime that legally sanctioned the artificial separation of blacks and whites, and the oppression of the former. It is hard to describe how we felt on 11 February 1990. Weight was lifted off our shoulders. We were shaking off a blanket that settled over us all, shutting out the light.

As Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster prison, South Africa walked from night into day. We looked at each other and saw not blacks and whites, but people. He represented the hope of a whole nation that finally we could look into each others’ eyes and see our common humanity.

The day was one of jubilation and joyous disbelief. We literally couldn’t believe what we were seeing. There he was! On a hot February afternoon, literally walking out of jail, and the government that we despised had allowed it. After so many years of oppression, the facade of apartheid, the edifice, was crumbling. Like Berliners knocking down the Wall the previous year, we South Africans felt as if we were making and watching history. We were part of one of the century’s miracles. We looked at each other, and wept.

Madiba is a great hero. He went into jail a freedom fighter and emerged, 27 years later, as a statesman who spoke peace and reconciliation, ready to lead his country into the future. And we followed.

Here’s his first interview with the world’s press:


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

13 thoughts on “Twenty Years

  1. there are moments in our lives when we know we are witness to history in the making. having read “Long Walk to Freedom”, i have always been most impressed by his capacity for forgiveness, and the example that he set for his country. someone with every reason for bitterness and recrimination, demonstrated the exact opposite – and it was exactly what was needed.

    happy day indeed.

  2. Thanks for remembering this, Charlotte. Wow, 20 years. I was at Betty’s Bay with my student church group (ha, those were the days) and we came back to go and stand on the grand parade and hear his speech. I have almost no memory of the event other than the TV and media pics. It’s blurred with other rallies at the time. I remember the sheer joy that he was free and as South Africans we could start becoming one nation again. And then random things – some of the crowd looting the shops, the tense years from 1990 to 1994. Things getting better.

  3. One of our country’s political highlights.

  4. I was in class at UPE that hot February when a lecturer came in and interrupted the class to say that the ANC had been unbanned. The class was adjourned so that we could go and watch the news and listen to the official announcement. It was completely surreal – the organisation that I had known for my entire sentient life as the “banned African National Congress” (and I used to wonder as a child what sort of music they made) was suddenly just the ANC, and Madiba was less than two weeks away from being released. I’m glad I lived through such a poignant part of our country’s history.

  5. It was a marvelous, marvelous day indeed. So hopeful for the whole world. I can’t imagine what it must have been like actually to BE there.

  6. That must have been an extraordinary moment. How priviledged you were to witness it, although not so much, I suppose, to have had to live through the preceding conflict. At least it all ended with the right result.

  7. Oh Charlotte, I remember this day so clearly because I was privileged enough to be with South African friends at my international college in Canada, where we were all scholarship students. A bunch of us stayed up all night to watch the footage of his release and then we ran through the college whooping and shouting for joy. As with sharing the collapse of the Berlin Wall the year before with the German students, it was an unforgettable experience. I’ll never, ever forget being touched by their euphoria, and the knowledge that there I was, just a teenage girl from Sydney, sharing a moment of humanity’s collective history. It’s bringing tears to my ears even now. Happy Anniversary, South Africa.

  8. ‘Tears to my ears’ – oh my god!!!! Could you PLEASE edit that for me?! How hilarious – tears to *eyes*, so much so I couldn’t even see my mistake!

  9. Oh, your post gave me chills. Thanks for reminding me about this day, which I remember fuzzily – I do fear I was too young to understand its significance but I do remember it!

  10. I remember when that happened. I’m choking up from reading your post. Thanks for writing it!

  11. It was a great day. It hasn’t brought all the dreams as quickly as I’d hoped. It has certainly brought another host of challenges. Things are never as they seem.

  12. My parents were involved in the anti-apartheid movement in Britain during the 1980’s, and even though I was just fourteen, I remember the day Nelson Mandela was released vividly. There was such a feeling of hope and optimism amongst us – I can remember asking my mother if it was now o.k. to buy South African apples.

    Have just discovered your blog, and also wanted to say that to be loved more than cheese is really quite something. Congratulations!

  13. Such an extraordinary piece of film! And the authority, not to mention sheer political savvy and gravitas of the man is amazing. As the journalist – to walk out after all those decades of prison and take on the world’s press like that…

    Thank you for reproducing this. Hard to believe this happened in my lifetime, somehow.

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