South Africa Frees Mandela After 27 YearsBy David B. Ottaway
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 12, 1990; Page A01
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA, FEB. 11 -- Black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela walked out of prison today a free man after more than 27 years in confinement and told cheering supporters that their armed struggle against white-minority rule in South Africa must be intensified.
The 71-year-old Mandela, whom the government is hoping to engage in negotiations to end the country's bitter racial conflict, acknowleged the "integrity" of the man who ordered his release, President Frederik W. de Klerk, but said blacks "have no option but to continue" to fight for political rights. He also urged that international economic sanctions against Pretoria be maintained until its apartheid policies of racial separation are totally dismantled.
"Today, the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future," Mandela said in his first public speech since he was sentenced to a life term in 1964, two years after he was imprisoned for activities opposing white rule. "It has to be ended by our own decisive mass action in order to build peace and security."
As blacks around the nation sang and danced in the streets, Mandela walked through the gates of Victor Verster Prison, outside the nearby city of Paarl, hand-in-hand with his wife, Winnie, at 4:16 p.m. (9:16 a.m. EST), waving to a crowd of several hundred supporters under a brilliant sky and raising his fist in a black-power salute. He was then driven to Cape Town, where his speech was delayed after youths in the crowd waiting to greet him began looting nearby stores and police fired on them, killing three, according to some reports.
In Washington, President Bush telephoned Mandela, who had been the world's most famous political prisoner, to express "delight" at his freedom and invited him to the White House. Bush said today that Mandela responded by saying he expected to accept the invitation. On Saturday, Bush had phoned de Klerk and asked him to come to Washington on a separate visit.
Mandela's walk into freedom began what the government hopes will be an era in which the country's centuries-old racial divisions will be healed through negotiation. Pretoria, which once painted Mandela as a gun-toting guerrilla, also lifted a 30-year ban on his African National Congress (ANC) and other anti-apartheid organizations, calculating that the man whom blacks here revere as their leader represented their best hope for a peaceful solution.
But with opposition from extremists on both sides and many apartheid laws remaining in force, the threat of racial warfare remains, and it is unclear what role Mandela will play in uniting the various black nationalist groups fighting Pretoria or in easing the fears of the country's white minority of what many believe is inevitable rule by South Africa's 25 million blacks.
In his speech, delivered in a strong, authoritative voice, Mandela appeared less conciliatory toward the jittery white population of 5 million than many had expected and eager to establish his credentials with more militant members of the ANC.
For the most part, he echoed ANC policies and sought to justify his decision to engage in secret talks with the government, which had become the subject of suspicion among militant ANC members.
He also insisted that de Klerk fulfill all ANC conditions, including an end to the state of emergency imposed in 1986, and the freeing of all political prisoners, before negotiations could begin.
"We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait. Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive," Mandela said.
The release of Mandela touched off rejoicing not only in South Africa but in other countries. Indian Prime Minister V.P. Singh praised him as a "valiant soldier of independence, justice and quality," and French Premier Michel Rocard invited Mandela to Paris. In Britain, church bells rang when he was released, and supporters sang and danced in front of the South African Embassy in London.
Blacks numbering perhaps a million flooded the streets of this country's black townships today, singing ANC songs, waving ANC flags and performing revolutionary dances in the most extraordinary show of black jubilation ever here. Even larger celebrations are expected Monday when Mandela returns to his home in Soweto, outside Johannesburg, where he lived before his imprisonment.
Today's ceremony marking his release was brief and simple, although delayed 76 minutes by the late arrival of his wife and other family members from Johannesburg. It was carried live on South Africa's state-run television in an unprecedented broadcast. Just a few days ago, it was illegal even to print Mandela's portrait in newspapers.
As Mandela's car approached the prison gates, Mandela got out and walked the last few yards with his wife onto the main country road outside that runs through South Africa's wine-producing heartland. Tall, slim and appearing fit, he appeared happy but somewhat disoriented by the sights beyond the prison gates.
After returning to his car, Mandela was driven in a convoy with his wife, family and friends to a tumultuous reception in downtown Cape Town that was marred by violence.
Hundreds of youths in a large crowd waiting to greet Mandela in the central square in front of the old City Hall began breaking store windows and looting shops. They had apparently grown restless after waiting hours in the hot sun for Mandela to speak.
Police opened fire about 10 times over a four-hour period with tear gas and buckshot, killing three people and wounding a score of others, according to some witnesses. Police said later that only one person had been killed. The rioting and shooting was witnessed by a large contingent of foreign journalists and television cameramen who had come here to record Mandela's release.
The uncertain situation led to a delay of more than two hours before Mandela's speech as aides considered whether there was a risk to his safety. "We wanted to be sure it would be safe for Mr. Mandela," Abdullah Omar, a family lawyer, told reporters later.
Mandela subsequently canceled a scheduled press conference, and aides said the violence and confusion were factors in their decision to postpone it until later in the week in Johannesburg.
By the time Mandela finally spoke as dark was falling, only about 10,000 of the more than 50,000 blacks, mixed-race and whites who had waited for up to seven hours to see and hear him were still there. Mandela spoke from the balcony of the City Hall building with a huge black, green and gold flag of his African National Congress fluttering above it and a red flag of the newly legalized South African Communist Party covering a wall just below.
Mandela told an approving crowd that the initial conditions that had caused the ANC to resort to armed struggle in 1961 after decades of peaceful resistance "still exist today" and that "we have no option but to continue."
But he also said, "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."
Mandela described President de Klerk as "a man of integrity" and acknowledged that he had gone further than any other white South African leader in normalizing political life for the majority black population.
But, he said, "Our struggle has reached a decisive moment: We call on our people to seize this moment, so that the process towards democracy is rapid and uninterrupted."
Mandela called for "disciplined mass action" and appealed to "our white compatriots to join us in the shaping of a new South Africa. The freedom movement is a political home for you too."
But this was his only appeal to whites, and he made no mention of the need to strike a compromise between white and black demands that was contained in a paper he had presented to the government last year.
Mandela also saluted the world commnunity for what he called its "great contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle. Without your support, our struggle would not have reached this advanced stage."
Later, he called upon Western nations to keep de Klerk's government isolated and under economic sanctions, saying that "to lift sanctions now would run the risk of aborting the process towards the complete eradication of apartheid."
Mandela seemed anxious to set the record straight about his secret involvement in talks with the government -- started at his initiative -- and to head off criticism that he acted too independently. He said his talks had been aimed only at normalizing the political situation in the country and had not concerned "the basic demands of the struggle."
"I wish to stress that I myself have at no time entered negotiations about the future of our country, except to insist on a meeting between the ANC and the government."
Negotiations, he said, cannot take place "above the heads or behind the backs of our people," adding that he favored the establishment of "a body which is democratically elected on a nonracial basis."
He said he remained "a loyal and disciplined member" of the ANC and "in full agreement with all of its objectives, strategies and tactics."
As for his vision of a new South Africa, Mandela said there had to be an end to "white monopoly on political power and a fundamental restructuring of our political and economic systems."
"Negotiations on the dismantling of apartheid will have to address the overwhelming demands of our people for a democratic, nonracial and unitary South Africa."
© Copyright 1990 The Washington Post Company