Nelson Mandela, freedom fighter and conscience of Africa, died on December 5th, aged 95.
“It was a moment of liberation experienced around the world”, wrote Martin Meredith in his monumental survey of Africa since independence, “The Fate of Africa.” On 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela walked through the gates of Victor Verster prison. The world had remembered him as a heavily-built middle-aged man, but Mandala who walked out was a lean, grey-haired elderly figure.
In 1984, after eighteen years the maximum security prison on Robben Island, Mandela was transferred to another at Pollsmoor. Pollsmoor was an even grimmer facility but his long walk to freedom was accelerating. On Christmas Eve in 1986, he was given his first taste of freedom outside prison in 24 years as a prison official took him on a drive around Cape Town. Other trips to coastal resorts and fishing villages followed; he was allowed to eat in cafes and visit his warders. Astonishingly, no news were leaked and no photos were taken of these trips; in fact no contemporary photograph of him was published from 1964 to 1990.
In 1988, he was transferred to a low-security prison at the Victor Verster, where he stayed in a small farm-house on the grounds. It was from here that he was driven to secret meetings with South Africa’s Afrikaner presidents, who agreed that Mandela was a man they could do business with. On 2nd February 1990, the government declared a universal franchise for South Africa. Apartheid was over. A week later, Mandela was released.
His release was to bring him little personal joy. A scandal broke out over the criminal activities of his wife, who was revealed as the head of a notorious gang called the Mandela United Football Club that terrorized parts of Soweto in the 1980s. Moreover, she had grown accustomed to having her husband locked up in prison; she showed little interest in family life nor halted her amorous liaisons with a lover half her age. Devastated, Mandela published poignant letters he had written to her from Robben Island in his 1994 autobiography and divorced her.