February 11, 1990 – The day Nelson Mandela was released unconditionally from prison prison after 27 years. Accompanied by his then-wife Winnie, he left the Victor Verster prison (later renamed Drakenstein Correctional Centre) on the outskirts of Paarl and was driven the 60 kms to Cape Town by African National Congress'(ANC) Rose Sonto along a route lined by thousands of supporters.
On the balcony of the City Hall he spoke to a crowd of approximately 50 000 people, who had waited for hours to see him. He started by expressing his sincere and warmest gratitude to the “millions of my compatriots and those in every corner of the globe who have campaigned tirelessly for my release”.
Nelson Mandela’s release followed the relaxation of apartheid laws – including the unbanning of leading liberation organisations (e.g. ANC, SACP, PAC) by then South African President FW de Klerk. In commemoration of his release, people across the country danced joyously in the streets. Unfortunately the revelry also caused some problems, as doctors had to treat over a hundred people as police clashed with youths looting shops in various cities and townships. In Mdantsane, Ciskei, 10 people were killed when Ciskei soldiers used force against a group of revellers celebrating this liberation figure’s release. Mandela’s release was seen as the beginning of the new South Africa.
But just prior to that there was the waiting. The first of two newscasts, ABC News on The Hour reported that, at the time (6:00 am PST), Nelson Mandela had not yet been released and that the anticipation was reaching the frenzy stage and that the reports coming in said the official release may not take place for several more hours. Other news that day included word that Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev did not mind that the two Germanys became one again. It was always a fear by Moscow that a united Germany would once again pose a military threat to the Soviet Union. Gorbachev made his remarks during talks with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Pravda reported that a united Germany would result in the West German Mark would “roll like a tank” over the East German economy, should the two states merge their currencies.
But all that fell on the back-burner as the news of the day, and possibly of the year, would unfold with reports less than an hour later. Nelson Mandela left Verster prison.
And that’s what happened, this February 11, 1990 as reported by ABC News and CBS News.