President Cyril Ramaphosa address guests and members of the public from the Cape Town City Hall balcony where Nelson Mandela made his first speech following his release from prison on this day, February 11, 30 years ago. Picture: KOPANO TLAPE / GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa address guests and members of the public from the Cape Town City Hall balcony where Nelson Mandela made his first speech following his release from prison on this day, February 11, 30 years ago. Picture: KOPANO TLAPE / GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday marked the 30th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from jail with an address from the spot where the anti-apartheid icon made his first speech after walking out of prison. 

“It will forever be remembered as one of the most memorable days in the history of the world,” Ramaphosa said, speaking from the City Hall balcony in Cape Town, in front of a giant statue of Mandela.

On February 11 1990, Mandela had spoken from here to euphoric crowds, hours following his release after 27 years in prison. It was Mandela’s first major speech as a free man and a key moment in SA’s rebirth as white-minority rule crumbled.

“It was indeed an exhilarating moment,” Ramaphosa told thousands of people who gathered at the venue. “The day Mandela was released was a day we all knew that apartheid was dead and finished. It was a moment where the world literally stood still.

“He stood here to speak and I held the microphone as he spoke for the very first time,” said Ramaphosa. “Nothing could describe that brief second when that microphone crackled.”

Mandela was handed a life sentence in 1964 for alleged sabotage. He served 27 years, with stays on the notorious Robben Island, off Cape Town, and in Pollsmoor and Victor Verster prisons. His release came days after the country’s last apartheid leader, FW de Klerk, lifted the ban on the ANC and other liberation movements.

After 27 years, six months and six days in captivity, Mandela, then 71, walked free from his prison in Paarl, where hundreds of ANC supporters had gathered to greet him, waving the party’s black, green and gold flag.

AFP