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The walk to freedom

February 11 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela in South Africa

di Olivia McConhay

Thursday February 11 2010 marks the 20 years of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison after 27 years of incarceration.

A day for celebration for South Africans, but not only. Indeed, in the words of Desmond Tutu, the first black archbishop of Cape Town and a relentless opponent of racial segregation, over the last two decades Mandela has become “a global icon of reconciliation.”

The date will be officially marked with a special sitting in parliament by South Africa’s current president Jacob Zuma, with Nelson Mandela attending in the gallery.

Meanwhile, at what was known in 1990 as Victor Verster Prison – prison from which the celebrated man was released – a re-enactment has been planned of the moment Mandela, hand-in-hand with his then-wife Winnie, walked free after 27 years in prison.

Cyril Ramaphosa, a leader in Mandela’s African National Congress, was reported by Associated Press as saying: “We knew that his freedom meant that our freedom had also arrived.”

A new path

Though his birth name, Rolihlahla, means “troublemaker”, Mandela is widely accredited for leading a scarred South Africa into the post-apartheid era and for embracing the principle of racial harmony.

Indeed shortly after his release, Mandela entered into negotiations with the South African government and its head President Frederik De Klerk which eventually lead to the two men receiving a joint Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Just four years after Mandela’s release, South Africans held their first all-race elections in 1994, making Mandela their first black president.

Charitable work and international recognition

Serving just one term, having refused to stand for re-election in 1999, Mandela dedicated himself to peace-building activities, notably through the establishment of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. A number of further organisations have followed with the man’s endorsement, namely the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development and 46664 – the global HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaign famously named after the great man’s prison number.

Last November, the United Nations General Assembly declared 18 July would become Mandela Day, to mark the contribution of Nelson Mandela to world freedom. Every year, to mark the date, people around the world will be called on to give 67 minutes to a good cause – reflecting the 67 years Mr Mandela has spent as an activist.

Sources: AFP, AP, BBC, The Guardian, France24

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