Nelson Mandela Foundation

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February 10, 2010 – February 11, 2010, marks the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release after 27-and-a-half years in prison. Madiba leaving Victor Verster Prison, alongside Winnie Mandela, marked the birth of South Africa’s democracy.

Nelson Mandela Foundation staff members remember where they were and how they felt the day the organisation’s Founder was released.

Boniswa Qabaka, Information and Resource Officer: I was at college, studying to be a teacher, when Mr Mandela was released. We were so excited; we were all wearing “Release Mandela” T-shirts. As we watched his release on TV, we all chanted songs of freedom; it was so overwhelming and exciting at the same time.

Razia Saleh, Archivist: I was in Pretoria; we drove around hooting and celebrating with the community. Goodness, it was a very emotional day. A bit unreal, but amazing.

Zanele Riba, Archivist: I was in Cape Town at the Grand Parade. It was very crowded; my friends and I gave up because we couldn’t see anything. At the parade [Archbishop Emeritus] Desmond Tutu addressed the crowds, saying Mandela would be out at three. Everyone started shouting “Three”. It was amazing. We went back to campus where we watched everything on TV. I cannot even explain the excitement I felt that day.

Thoko Mavuso, Correspondence Co-ordinator: Founder’s Office: I was in exile in Zambia, working at Oliver Tambo’s office, when Madiba was released. It came as a shock to me because I was in a foreign land, and the next thing I knew the TV was telling me that my hero was free. I was shocked, but very excited at the same time. This meant that I could soon go home and be with my family, after 14 years of being away.

Ethel Arends, Personal Assistant to Achmat Dangor: When Madiba was released, I was at home watching TV. I was still very young so I didn’t really grasp the meaning of it, but I was excited nonetheless.

Florence Garishe, Receptionist: I was coming home from church. The streets were busy with people driving up and down, and hooting and singing. There was a festive atmosphere. I cannot even describe the happiness. I had never seen Mr Mandela’s picture, but when I saw him on TV, I knew he was the man who had fought for our freedom.

Denise Williams, Finance Intern: I was still very young but I remember that people were excited that he was out. My grandparents were very happy.

Joe Ditabo, Property Administrator: I was in Hammanskraal that day; even though I was young I knew that a hero was arriving. I remember a song by Brenda Fassie; “We miss you Mandela, where are you”. I had thought Brenda was saying “Manila”, so when he came out, I realised that he was the Mandela we were missing.

Maretha Slabbert, Travel and Logistics Co-ordinator: Founder’s Office: I was 17 and didn’t know much about Madiba then, but I remember my parents were anxious about how this was going to affect us. They were glued to the television set.

Buyi Sishuba, Support Officer: Memory Programme: I was at home in Soweto watching TV; we were all excited – singing and ululating. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. What most excited us was that Mandela’s release meant we would soon see our relatives, who were in exile.

Jacqui Maggott, Administration Support: Centre of Memory: I was with my neighbour, who had just given birth to a son. She was very excited because he was born on the day Madiba was released.

Sahm Venter, Researcher and Media Liaison: I was a journalist covering his release for an international news agency. I was outside the prison when he walked out. It was an incredibly emotional experience to finally see him walk free. Later, I was at the Grand Parade covering his first speech of freedom; to hear his voice speak those profound words was unforgettable.

Luthando Peter, Human Resources Administrator: I thought that he was one of the uneducated people because he refused to be released, but I now understand why he refused. He fought for all South Africans, not only black people, and at that time the country was divided because of the separation of groups. After he was released and sanctions were lifted, the economy improved and that benefitted all of us. I was very happy when I saw him released and I thought about his children and how happy they would be. I was glad to see the ANC flag being flown in freedom for the first time. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

Lee Davies, Database Administrator: I had been conscripted into the army and was in basic training. We were kept totally in the dark about Madiba’s release. After his release our two-year conscription was decreased to 15 months.

Joseph Maluleke, Maintenance: I was at home in Limpopo and watched it on TV. It made me feel really great.

Zintle Bambata, Intern: I was only a baby then.

Vimla Naidoo, PA: Founder’s Office: I was still at school when Mr Mandela was released. I had only heard his name once before – when I was in standard six and my history teacher had decided to tell us about a man not even mentioned in our text books. I remember my dad watching the day’s broadcast on television and the huge crowds waiting to see Mr Mandela, but I have to admit that at the time I simply did not understand the magnitude of the event.

Achmat Dangor, Chief Executive Officer: I was in Brussels, meeting the European Commission on behalf of Kagiso Trust, of which I was Executive Director. Needless to say, no meeting took place; everybody sat in front of the television and watched what was happening in South Africa. I was as fascinated and bewildered as the European officials with whom I was watching.

Sam Madimetja, Property Assistant: We were just happy to see that Madiba, who was in jail for our sakes, was out and now, maybe, we were going to get freedom.

Heather Henriques, Manager: Intellectual Property and Governance: I had just returned to the country and I stood on the balcony of my flat in Hillbrow and watched people run through the street. I was totally overwhelmed and had a sense of nervous anticipation that we were on the brink of freedom.

Ruth Rensburg, Manager: Resource Development: I was nine years old and I was watching it on TV with my parents. In the beginning I knew that Nelson Mandela was someone who did something brave, but I didn’t know what he had done. I thought that the way I was treated by white kids at my school might change for the better.

Kerileng Marumo, Financial Assistant: I don’t remember much because I was about nine, but we were listening on the radio and people were singing on the street in Tembisa.

Bushy Mphahlele, Head: Support Services: We were having a softball training camp, and at that moment, we were looking at a little TV and the room was filled with joy. We were chanting and dancing and we never went back to training that day.

Lucia Raadschelders, Archivist: I was in Lusaka, Zambia. I was part of Operation Vula and we were preparing to return two comrades to South Africa the next day. Exhilarating and confusing at the same time, to say the least!

Peter Moitse, Human Resources Officer: I was a student at the Wits Business School. On that day, I was celebrating with the people in the street. I was so excited; all along at the University of the North we had been running the Release Mandela Campaign for Limpopo, so when it happened after so many years, it was a joy that finally our dream had come true.

Jill Phillips, Bookkeeper: I was at home watching TV, not really fully understanding it as I was still very young – 15. I remember all the excitement. It was only as I got older that I understood the importance of what had happened.

Verne Harris, Head: Memory Programme: My family gathered in Johannesburg and we watched on television all day. It was an ecstatic experience.

Dudu Buthelezi, Office Assistant: I was at home with my family watching TV and I couldn’t believe my ears or my eyes that Madiba was coming out of jail. I was so excited and happy that everybody was going to be free – unconditionally. Amandla!

Mothomang Diaho, Head: Dialogue Programme: I was working at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital and I was off from night duty and exhausted, so I decided, after much deliberation, to rather sit at home and watch it from there.

Elina Ndlovu, Office Assistant: I had been volunteering, visiting sick children in Johannesburg hospital, and then I watched it on TV. I was confused and happy at the same time.

Naomi Warren, Dialogue Project Manager: I was 12 and in standard six and we watched the crowds and the celebrations on TV at the sports club with my family. I can remember it being a very emotional day for a lot of people.

Sello Hatang, Communications Manager: As soon as we had watched TV we went outside and started chanting freedom songs and running around. It was a symbol of hope and something positive for the community – that people in the mining area where I grew up would get jobs.

Yase Godlo, Co-ordinator: Dialogue Programme: I was home in Umtata and the whole family was watching TV and I kept on asking what he looked like. We played a guessing game, and everyone was just loud, until the reporter pointed him out walking with Winnie.

Molly Loate, Dialogue Administrator: I was at the wedding of a friend from Soweto, who married a crazy German man. He took away the TV while we were all watching, saying “This is my day”. There was such an uproar from the guests and most people left. The marriage did not last.

Colette Kelly, Management Accountant: There was such joy, people coming together to witness our freedom and to share this moment that had not been possible before. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged in this country.

Kathy Ndebele, Project Co-ordinator: ICT: I was at home watching TV with my family. It really felt like Christmas Day. Little did I know that I would work for this man. It was an emotional moment for all of us.