Mandela remembers walk to freedom after 20 years
Cape Town parliament gives global icon a standing ovation
Published 12/02/2010 | 05:00
Nelson Mandela made a rare public appearance last night as South Africans celebrated the 20th anniversary of his release from prison.
The 91 year-old, who suffers changeable health, was brought into the parliament buildings in the shadow of Table Mountain in Cape Town through a basement entrance, disappointing thousands of people who had lined the surrounding streets hoping to catch a glimpse of their hero.
As he walked slowly to his seat with the aid of a cane, the entire chamber rose in a standing ovation that lasted several minutes chanting: "Nelson Mandela -- there's no one like you."
Mr Mandela, flanked by his former and current wives, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Graca Machel, watched from the gallery as President Jacob Zuma delivered his first State of the Nation address.
Mr Zuma said that the day Mr Mandela, who is often referred to in South Africa by his clan name Madiba, walked out of the then Victor Verster prison after 27 years was "a watershed moment that changed our country".
"The release of Madiba was brought about by the resolute struggles of the South African people," he said. "As we celebrate Madiba's release today, let us re-commit ourselves to building a better future for all South Africans, black and white. President Mandela was central in assisting the country to win the rights to host this great event. We therefore have to make the World Cup a huge success in his honour."
Earlier in the day at the jail, now renamed Groot Drakenstein, ANC party grandees re-enacted Mr Mandela's walk out of the prison gates. Trevor Manuel, a former activist and now government minister, shared a plinth with a statue of the anti-apartheid leader, imitating his raised right fist.
The day of the release was "deeply etched in our memories", he told the crowd. "He is a disciplined and loyal member of the ANC. Madiba was a symbol of something much bigger."
Two decades after his long walk to freedom, many believe the regard felt for Mr Mandela may be increasing in contrast to that for the party, which is beset by allegations of corruption and personal scandals.
Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the ANC's key negotiators with the apartheid regime, sought to burnish Mr Zuma's image by association with Mr Mandela. "We are very proud that we have had Nelson Mandela to lead us out of this prison, to lead us into freedom," he said.
"Today the baton has been handed over to our president comrade Jacob Zuma. He has taken the baton and continues to lead the nation forward."
Helen Zille, the leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, said more substance was needed beyond the symbolism.
"The great irony is that the more the ANC diverges from Nelson Mandela's vision, the more it seeks to appropriate it," she said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)