Page last updated at 08:08 GMT, Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Mandela memories: Freedom walk

Nelson Mandela and his then wife Winnie raise fists upon his release from Victor Verster prison, 11 February 1990 in Paar

Two decades ago this week South African anti-apartheid fighter Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor-Verster Prison in Paarl - a free man after 27 years.

BBC News website readers have sent in their memories of the historic moment on 11 February 1990.


I was a young student and anti-apartheid activist.

Freed anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela (L) and his then wife Winnie in the garden of Archbishop Desmond Tutu's residence in Cape Town, one day after his release from jail

At the humble age of 17 I had already been jailed without trial by the South Africa police more than five times.

My future and that of our country looked bleak.

A friend of mine died at the hands of the police during December 1989, I was sure to be their next target, but all of that changed in a few days.

Mandela was released.

We drove to Paarl where he walked free and from there to Cape Town.

I was so small in that sea of people. If it was not for Mandela, I would not be able to write this now…


I vividly remember this day. I was a child of a white English family attending a junior school in a very Afrikaans area.

Nelson Mandela making a speech in Cape Town after his release from prison
Kevan recalls everyone wanting to know what Mr Mandela would say

Our teachers banned any mention of politics and also banned the news being shown on the TV or radio in the school hostel in the weeks running up to Madiba's release.

But I went home on weekends to an English family where no such restrictions existed and I became a portal of information for my Afrikaans friends back at school during the week and would smuggle information back to my school mates during the week far from the teachers ears.

Everyone wanted to know what this man had to say and what he planned to do now he was free.

The cell at Robbin Island where Mandela was imprisoned
Kevan says there are no words to describe Madiba's strength of spirit

Some thought there would be war, others (including myself) thought all the whites would be kicked out, but what followed was a process of reconciliation from a man that was imprisoned for all those years in a tiny cell (I have seen it) and made to do hard labour all the while.

There are no words to describe the strength of the human spirit shown by Madiba after such hardships and injustice and I am immensely grateful I lived was there to see it, and to see the product of what he achieve in an amazing country that everyone should take the time to go see themselves.

Viva Madiba.


My friends and I went to see Mandela's release on a big screen in Zimbabwe.

man in Soweto holding up a newspaper and celebrating the release of Nelson Mandela on 11 February 1990
Chenjerai remembers Hugh Masekela's song playing

We first played Hugh Masekela's music - Bring Back Nelson Mandela - and as the lyrics came to "I want to see him walking with Winnie Mandela" … the gates of the prison were opened and he walked gracefully to Winnie, joined hands with her and walked to freedom in front of all the cameras of the world.

We were all stunned by his sense of presence, and also by his new face since his photo we were used to was over 27 years old with an old hairstyle.

Here was a different face, a different human being, graceful and humble.

All the journalists gathered for the occasion did not even remember to write anything. We were all mesmerised.

A few months later, when he came to visit in Zimbabwe, Harare International Airport came to a total standstill.

As we shook hands with him on the tarmac, a woman shouted from the terrace upstairs: "Madiba, you are still beautiful!"

I will never forget that occasion when I shook his hand and he calmly said "Thank you" to all as they shook hands with him.


I was 11 years old, when Mandela was released. When I first saw him on TV I was surprised that he looked old for I had never seen him before.

When I first saw him on TV I was surprised that he looked old
Bongani Mdakane, South Africa

My mother had previously told me that even she didn't know how Mandela looked like.

That Sunday there were cars passing by my home hooting and making noise.


I was 23 years old, born an raised in South Africa I'd had never seen a picture of Madiba till that day.

nelson Mandela seen being interviewed shortly after his release from jail [VT Freeze Frame]
David remembers thinking that Mandela did not look scary at all

His image had always been banned, yet he seemed so far removed from the scary monster he'd always been portrayed by the state.

It was an incredibly emotional moment listening to him speak from the steps of Cape Town City Hall.

Coming so soon after the Berlin Wall came down, the 1990s looked like a changing point for us all…


It was on a sad afternoon day, as my fiancée had dropped me. It was traumatic and left my heart poisonous.

As I sat down quietly, trying to figure out my actions of vengeance. Holding on to my small radio I began listening to it to see if I could get any advice so as to relieve myself from my frustrating heartache.

Slowly I got the words.

It was like a miracle when I heard BBC Focus on Africa telling all listeners all over Africa that Nelson Mandela had been released from prison.

I jumped in excitement. A minute later, a group of young men came passing along my street singing songs of praise, dancing with all sorts of celebration for the released leader.

I toed along with my small radio held tightly under my armpit. There was a real momentum that eased the love trauma my girlfriend had left with me that day.

With Mandela's freedom, I was able to gain some healing.

"Kuru momo ipo sortha ayafeh agoot" - meaning in Temne: Thank God I have got some relief.

It is a day I will never forget.


I was sitting on a tractor at Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg at the time and I remember saying to myself: "It's time to immigrate as this once great country is heading to the toilet." After 14 years in Australia, Mr Mandela and his like have not let me down.


I was at Victor-Verster Prison when Mandela (and Winnie) walked out, in 40C heat, four helicopters in the air above them.

Every time anyone went down that road, we all 'twitched' and raced after him/her
Iain MacDonald, Edinburgh

I was a journalist for the South African Press Association and had been "staking out" the prison for four days before, with the rest of the press pack.

We never knew which entrance Mandela would leave by, as there was a sand road that led around the side of the prison, near the house within the grounds in which he was staying.

Every time anyone went down that road, we all 'twitched' and raced after him/her.

It was a breathtaking moment, and for me it felt as if my career had come to a fitting conclusion - beginning with Donald Woods and the Steve Biko affair, and ending with - it was obvious - the imminent freeing of South Africa from apartheid through Mandela's release.

Nelson Mandela (C) and his then wife Winnie raising their fists and saluting cheering crowd upon Mandela's release from the Victor Verster prison near Paarl
Mr Mandela's release meant the start of a new world for Iain

I recall beating Reuters news agency to a phone by five minutes, then making my way back to parliament (my operating base for Sapa) to be told the reporter scheduled to cover Mandela's first speech had been trapped by the pressure of the crowd.

I then covered Mandela's speech, the odd bit of looting and gunfire - a Sapa reporter was hit by buckshot - and finally, sending the story out on the wires as fast as possible.

A stunning day. An amazing week. The start of a new world.


I was a young university student in Accra and the moment the news broke out, me and some of my fellow students jumped in a taxi and went to the Kwame Nkrumah Circle where a live celebration was going on in honour of Mandela's release.

The release of an innocent man is justice for all! It brings out the humanity in us
Patricia Fynn, Ghana

It was such a spontaneous reaction on my part and I totally enjoyed the celebrations with people from all walks of life!

On hindsight I wonder why I did that but the answer is so simple: The release of an innocent man is justice for all! It brings out the humanity in us.


When Nelson Mandela was released I was only 11 years old. However, I still remember that day quite clearly.

I can remember that he emerged from jail with a smile and I can remember feeling very happy
Deborah Jane Cairns, South Africa

At the time I lived with my immediate family on a farm between Makhado (then Louis Trichardt) and Mussina (then Messina), in present day Limpopo province.

We had no television signal because our farm was in a valley so I went with my parents, and my younger brother, to their friend's house in what was then called Venda.

We watched Nelson Mandela's release in Thohoyandou.

I can remember that he emerged from jail with a smile and I can remember feeling very happy.

Statues of Mandela lined up for sale
It is only now that Deborah can fully appreciate the significance of that day

Although at that age I did not fully comprehend the significance of his release.

I do not remember what we did immediately after the television broadcast, but I can definitely remember what happened on the way home.

When we left to go home it was early evening and the sun had almost set.

As we drove along we came across crowds of jubilant African National Congress supporters in the middle of the road.

My father had no choice but to drive through them.

We were all a bit afraid, even though my parents were ANC supporters.

However, I do not think that I have ever seen people who were so happy before, and it is only now that I can fully begin to understand how they must have felt.


I was a Zimbabwean student studying at Rhodes University in Grahamstown at the time Mandela was released.

I can remember walking home that night and it felt like even the air had changed
Rachel Dent, USA

I remember going around to a friend's house to watch it on their TV. The SABC coverage was very strange.

There was very little commentary or analysis and the scene unfolded almost in silence.

It made the images even more powerful and in some ways unreal.

Was this really, truly happening in apartheid South Africa? I don't know if this was an intentional ploy on the part of the government to belittle what was happening, but I think it backfired on them.

Afterwards, it felt like the whole of South Africa was holding their breath and waiting to see what happened next.

I can remember walking home that night and it felt like even the air had changed.


My father was born and raised in Durban, and left after his brief military service made him realise that he couldn't continue to live in a country that treated its' own citizens so poorly. When Nelson Mandela was released from Victor-Verster it was the first time I ever saw him cry.


It all happened so quickly. After waiting and hoping for years - without really believing we'd ever see him free and alive - the announcement seemed to come right out of the blue.

It was like the sun mightn't come up the next day
Carolyn De la Harpe, UK

The atmosphere was electric. The whole country was charged with excitement, mostly very positive from what I could gauge, but there was also a lot of panic and fear.

I remember people stockpiling food, tinned food especially and candles. People were buying up entire stocks of candles from their local stores in anticipation - of what exactly I'm not sure, and don't think they were either.

Springbok captain Francois Pienaar (R) receives the Rugby World Cup from South african President Nelson Mandela at Ellis Park in Johannesburg (24 June 1995)
Deborah is certain that Mandela's Rainbow Nation gave the Springboks victory

It was like the sun mightn't come up the next day.

On the whole though, the country was becoming what would be coined "the Rainbow Nation", and was starting to live this philosophy in every way.

There was an incredible acceptance of and appreciation for diversity of every kind (which you can feel to this day).

The energy was overwhelming.

I'm certain that's what carried the Springboks to their World Cup victory in 1995 - this national unity.

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