Saturn Return: Mandela Freed from Victor Verster Prison
Nelson Mandela was freed from Paarl, South Africa, near Cape Town. On the map below of the South African Cape area, it is the red x. The header shot is of a statue commemorating Mandela’s release from the prison.
MAN IN THE NEWS: AN UNWAVERING OPPONENT AND AN UNPREDICTABLE LEADER OF SOUTH AFRICA; NELSON MANDELA
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN
Published: February 12, 1990 from the New York Times.
..One thing seemed clear yesterday: the years of imprisonment had not broken Nelson R. Mandela. Emerging from Victor Verster Prison near Cape Town, (it has been renamed Drakenstein Correctional center the 71-year-old black nationalist leader – who had not been seen or heard publicly for almost 26 years – raised his fist in a triumphant salute and spoke to a sea of cheering followers of their dignity and his dreams of ”peace, democracy and freedom for all” in a new nation without apartheid.
The face was like parchment and the voice was strained, but the passion was still there: power seemed to radiate from the lean old figure. And anyone could see that the years of prison had ravaged only the body, not the spirit; they had, if anything, solidified his resolve and raised his stature as the embodiment of black liberation.
They offered in recent years to release him for a promise of nonviolence, but he refused, saying his freedom and that of his people were inseparable. And finally, President F. W. de Klerk had to make concessions to him to bring his release, because the man once regarded by white South Africans as a threat to everything they prized had become the best, perhaps the last, hope of peaceful reconciliation.
Outside City Hall in Cape Town, he stood before a fraction of the millions who believe he should be president and have viewed his release with expectations bordering on the messianic. Mr. Mandela told the crowd that the struggle for which he went to prison will continue, but he expressed hope for ”a climate conducive to a negotiated settlement.”
A lawyer and a leader of the outlawed African National Congress who had gone underground and launched guerrilla warfare against Pretoria, Mr. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and convicted of sabotage and treason in a 1964 trial for trying to overthrow white rule, a charge he conceded before sentencing in his last and most famous affirmation of principle.
”A time comes in the life of any nation,” he declared on April 20, 1964, ”where there remains only two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all the means in our power in defense of our people, our future, our freedom.
Sentenced to Life in Prison
”During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve, but if need be, an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
For 18 years, he was kept at the prison fortress at Robben Island, where he endured substandard food, deprivation of reading material and hard labor that included breaking rocks in a lime quarry.
In 1982, he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison near Cape Town. There he shared a cell with other prisoners and was allowed to cultivate a small vegetable garden and to study for an advanced law degree, which he received last year.
His communications with his wife, Winnie, and children were limited to two 40-minute visits and one 500-word letter a month.
Campaign for Freedom
An international campaign to free him began in the 1980’s and culminated in a call for his release by the United Nations Security Council. Around the world, streets and squares were named for him. Peace prizes and honorary degrees were awarded to him. A song, ”Free Nelson Mandela,” became a hit, and ”Sarafina,” a musical about him and his nation’s racial struggle, appeared on Broadway.
In 1985, President P. W. Botha offered to free him if he renounced violence, but he refused to do so until the Government granted blacks full political rights and took the intitiative to dismantle apartheid, South Africa’s pervasive system of segregation and white preference.While his health for years was good, Mr. Mandela underwent prostate surgery in 1985. And after he contracted tuberculosis and nearly died in 1988, he was moved to a comfortable bungalow at the Victor Verster prison farm at Paarl, near Cape Town. There he was allowed unrestricted family visits, strolls on the grounds and access to television.
In August, Mr. de Klerk replaced Mr. Botha and later released five of Mr. Mandela’s comrades and three other anti-apartheid leaders.Amid reports that Mr. Mandela would soon be freed, Mr. de Klerk met with him in December.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 19, 1918, at Umtata in Transkei territory of the Eastern Cape, where his father was the chief of the Xhosa-speaking Tembu tribe.
Expelled in Student Strike
He had a relatively privileged upbringing, attended Methodist schools and was admitted to the black University of Fort Hare in 1938. But he was expelled in 1940 for leading a student strike with a fellow student, Oliver Tambo, who became a lifelong colleague. To avoid an arranged tribal marriage, Mr. Mandela renounced his hereditary leadership of the tribe and went to Johannesburg, where he worked as a police officer at a gold mine, as a law clerk and in a real estate agency run by Walter Sisulu, who was later imprisoned with him.
Mr. Mandela, at 6 feet 2 and once weighed 245 pounds, and boxed as a heavyweight for a time. He also studied law by correspondence at the predominantly white University of Witwatersrand, and obtained his law degree from the University of South Africa in 1942.Two years later, with Mr. Tambo and Mr. Sisulu, he formed the Youth League of the African National Congress, which had been founded in 1912 to fight for black political rights. The Youth League eventually came to dominate the congress.
In the 1940’s, Mr. Mandela married a nurse, Evelyn Nomathamsanga, with whom he had three children. She helped finance his studies but disapproved strongly of his involvement in the Communist-led rights movement. and the marriage ended in divorce in 1957. Evelyn spent much of her later years working as a Jehovah’s Witness missionary, keeping the name Mandela, but remarried retired a Soweto businessman Simon Rakeepile. When she died in 2004 Mandela attended the funeral along with his second and third wives.