Remarkable People

ID #5262

Nelson Mandela 4 Negotiations, Release and Presidency.

In February 1990 F.W. de Klerk reversed the ban on the ANC and other anti-apartheid organizations and announced that Mandela would be released from prison. Mandela was released on 11 February 1990, an event which was broadcast all over the world. On the day of his release, Mandela made a speech to the nation. He declared his commitment to peace and reconciliation with the country's white minority, but made it clear that the ANC's armed struggle was not yet over when he said "our resort to the armed struggle in 1960 with the formation of the military wing of the ANC (Umkhonto we Sizwe) was a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid. The factors which necessitated the armed struggle still exist today. We have no option but to continue. We express the hope that a climate conducive to a negotiated settlement would be created soon, so that there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle.” He also said his main focus was to bring peace to the black majority and give them the right to vote in both national and local elections.

Mandela was transferred from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison in March 1982 together with Walter Sisulu, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Raymond Mhlaba.  It has been suggested that this was to remove the influence of senior leaders on a new generation of black activists imprisoned on Robben Island, which became known as "Mandela University". However, Kobie Coetsee said the move was to facilitate contact with the government.

In February 1985 President P.W. Botha offered Mandela his freedom on condition that he “unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon”. Coetsee and other ministers advised Botha against this, saying that Mandela would never commit his organization in exchange for personal freedom. Mandela indeed spurned the offer, releasing a statement via his daughter Zindzi saying: "What freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts."

The first meeting between Mandela and the National Party government took place in November 1985 when Coetsee met Mandela in the Volks Hospital in Cape Town while recovering from prostate surgery. Over the next four years, a series of meetings took place which laid the groundwork for further contact and negotiations but little progress was made.

In 1988 Mandela was moved to Victor Verster Prison where he remained until his release. Various restrictions were lifted and people such as Harry Schwarz were able to visit him.

Throughout Mandela's imprisonment, local and international pressure mounted to release him, under the slogan Free Nelson Mandela! In 1989 South Africa reached a crossroads when Botha suffered a stroke and was replaced by Frederik de Klerk, who announced Mandela's release in February 1990.

On several occasions Mandela was visited by delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross at Robben Island and Pollsmoor prison. About such visits, he had this to say: "to me personally, and those who shared the experience of being political prisoners, the Red Cross were a beacon of humanity within the dark inhumane world of political imprisonment."

Following his release from prison, Mandela returned to leadership of the ANC and led the party in negotiations that led to the first multi-racial elections. In 1991 the ANC held its first national conference in South Africa and elected Mandela as President. His friend and colleague Oliver Tambo, who had led the organization in exile during Mandela's imprisonment became National Chairperson.
Mandela's leadership through the negotiations, as well as his relationship with F.W. de Klerk, was recognized when they were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. However, their relationship was sometimes strained, particularly in a sharp exchange in 1991 when he furiously referred to De Klerk as the head of "an illegitimate, discredited, minority regime". Talks broke down following the Boipatong massacre in June 1992 when Mandela took the ANC out of the negotiations. However, talks resumed when the spectre of violent confrontation made it clear that negotiations were the only way forward.

In April 1993, following the assassination of ANC leader Chris Hani, there were renewed fears that the country would erupt in violence. Mandela addressed the nation in a speech regarded as 'presidential' in which he said: "Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin. The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world. ...Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for – the freedom of all of us". While some riots followed the assassination, negotiators were galvanized into action and agreed that democratic elections should take place on 27 April 1994, a year after Hani's assassination.

South Africa's first multi-racial elections were held on 27 April 1994. The ANC won 62% of the votes and Mandela, as leader of the ANC, was inaugurated on 10 May 1994 as the country's first black President, with de Klerk as his first deputy and Thabo Mbeki the second in a Government of National Unity. As President from 1994 until 1999, Mandela presided over the transition from minority rule and apartheid, winning respect for his advocacy of national and international reconciliation. Mandela encouraged black South Africans to get behind the previously hated Springboks (the South African national rugby team) when South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup. After the Springboks won an epic final over New Zealand, Mandela presented the trophy to Captain Francois Pienaar, an Afrikaner, wearing a Springbok shirt with Pienaar's number 6 on the back. This was widely seen as an important step in the reconciliation of white and black South Africans.

After assuming the presidency, one of Mandela's trademarks was his use of Batik shirts, even on formal occasions. In South Africa's first post-apartheid military operation, Mandela ordered troops into Lesotho in September 1998 to protect the government of Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili. This came after a disputed election prompted fierce opposition which threatened the government. Commentators and critics including AIDS activists such as Edwin Cameron criticized Mandela for his government's ineffectiveness in stemming the AIDS crisis. After his retirement, Mandela admitted that he may have failed by not paying more attention to the epidemic.

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Last update: 2014-03-30 20:28
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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