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Stories

Victor Verster Prison and Release 
1988–1990 
 

Recovering from tuberculosis caused by dank conditions in his cell, in December 1988 Mandela was moved to Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. Here, he was housed in the relative comfort of a warders house with a personal cook, using the time to complete his LLB degree. Allowed many visitors, Mandela organised secret communications with exiled ANC leader Oliver Tambo. In 1989, Botha suffered a stroke, retaining the state presidency but stepping down as leader of the National Party, to be replaced by the conservative F. W. de Klerk. In a surprise move, Botha invited Mandela to a meeting over tea in July 1989, an invitation Mandela considered genial. Botha was replaced as state president by de Klerk six weeks later; the new president believed that apartheid was unsustainable and unconditionally released all ANC prisoners except Mandela. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, de Klerk called his cabinet together to debate legalising the ANC and freeing Mandela. Although some were deeply opposed to his plans, de Klerk met with Mandela in December to discuss the situation, a meeting both men considered friendly, before releasing Mandela unconditionally and legalising all formerly banned political parties on 2 February 1990.

 

Leaving Victor Verster on 11 February, Mandela held Winnie's hand in front of amassed crowds and press; the event was broadcast live across the world. Driven to Cape Town's City Hall through crowds, he gave a speech declaring his commitment to peace and reconciliation with the white minority, but made it clear that the ANC's armed struggle was not over, and would continue as "a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid." He expressed hope that the government would agree to negotiations, so that "there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle", and insisted that his main focus was to bring peace to the black majority and give them the right to vote in national and local elections. Staying at the home of Desmond Tutu, in the following days, Mandela met with friends, activists, and press, giving a speech to 100,000 people at Johannesburg's Soccer City. 

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Nelson Mandela release

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Nelson Mandela Released 1990