Mandela - the myth made man and face of a struggle

Independent Decade
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Nelson Mandela, the myth finally made man, walked out of prison yesterday with a smile on his face, but iron in his soul. He immediately delivered a solemn warning to President F W de Klerk that while he wants peaceful negotiations with the government, he will not cede an inch in the struggle he has been waging for half a century, in the name of the African National Congress, against white-minority rule.

Any notion that Mr Mandela would prove a man with whom the government would find it comfortable to negotiate the political terms of the "new South Africa" Mr de Klerk says he seeks were dispelled with his first public pronouncements in 25 years, made to a crowd of 50,000 under the majestic shadow of Table Mountain. He endorsed the ANC's recent calls to continue the "armed struggle", to persist with international sanctions against South Africa and to intensify political protest at home, with the unique authority his words carry.

Mr Mandela's followers had endured a wait of several hours with patience for the most part, but on the fringes looters, some of them drunk, broke shop windows and threw bottles and stones at the police, who responded with birdshot, tear gas and rubber bullets. Police said one looter had died; ambulance staff said the total was four. More than 100 people were injured.

The scene at the city hall was revolutionary. The green, yellow and black ANC flag fluttered from the flagpole and a huge banner saying "Nelson Mandela - the nation welcomes you home" was draped over the upper balcony.

The lower balcony was covered in ANC and South African Communist Party flags. As the dusk gathered, pigeons returning to their niches in the Victorian baroque facade found them filled with people perched on ledges and window sills. Opposite King Edward VII posed, wrapped in an ANC flag, while another pigeon fluttered behind his right ear.

The crowd heaved and swayed terrifyingly, panicked occasionally by the shooting which crackled around its fringes and the fear of tear gas from police and army helicopters which swung back and forth overhead. They shouted down church leaders who kept promising them that Mr Mandela would appear at any moment.

At last, his wife, Winnie, at his side, Nelson Mandela appeared on the balcony. The crowd surged forward and their frustration evaporated into joy as they chanted and punched fists into the air.

Mr Mandela, 71, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 for his role as commander-in-chief of the military wing of the African National Congress, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He declared yesterday that he had not budged in his commitment to "armed struggle", and would relent only once the government had created the conditions for all South Africans to express themselves with full political freedom.

Specifically, the government had to remove the state of emergency entirely and release all, "not only some", political prisoners - two steps which Mr de Klerk is not yet ready to take but which, as Mr Mandela noted, the ANC has demanded as preconditions to negotiate the terms of a political settlement.

Mr Mandela, who succeeded in being allowed to walk out of Victor Verster prison in Paarl, conceded nevertheless that Mr de Klerk, whom he has met at least twice, was a man of integrity who had moved farther towards normalising political conditions in South Africa than any previous Nationalist leader in 42 years.

Emphasising his loyalty to the ANC and its objectives and strategies, he reiterated, stern in his reading spectacles, the organisation's call for the struggle to continue until "the basic demands" of the people had been met.

His first words to the assembled multitude set the note which he now hopes will ring through all South Africa. "I greet you," he said in a clear voice, "in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all."