It was a watershed and quite unexpected moment. On this day 24 years ago, FW de Klerk announced that former president Nelson Mandela would be released on February 11, 1990.
Mandela’s release in 1990 came eight days after former president FW de Klerk announced the unbanning of political parties including Mandela's African National Congress (ANC).
De Klerk announced on February 10, 1990 that Mandela would be released the following day.
He had called a press conference at what was called the Hendrik Verwoed House which is situated across from Parliament.
“In pursuance of the opening address to Parliament, I am now in a position to announce that Mr Nelson Mandela will be released at the Victor Vester Prison on Sunday February 11, 1990 at about 3pm. I met with Mandela in Cape Town together with ministers Gerrit Viljoen and Kobie Coetsee. During the meeting Mandela was informed of the government's decision regarding his release,” said De Klerk at the time.
Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) Member of Parliament, Koos van der Merwe, was a member of the Conservative Party at the time of Mandela's release. Van Der Merwe, who became an MP in November 1977, was present when De Klerk made the announcement about Mandela's release.
Van der Merwe says, “A journalist phoned and told me that De Klerk was going to announce that Mandela is being freed. So I quickly rushed to HF Verwoed building and I was present when he announced that Mandela will now be freed.”
He adds that De Klerk's announcement to release Madiba was the best decision, because it could no longer be avoided.
“And eventually one may say former president De Klerk had no other alternative, he had to release him, because otherwise the country would have bled tremendously and our economy would have suffered,” he adds.
Before he was freed, Mandela had been kept for more than a year at a farm house at the back of then Victor Verster Prison now known as Groot Drakenstein Correctional Centre.
Very few people knew that he was kept there, says Manfred Jacobs who is the Tour Guide at the Drakenstein Prison.
“The people at the time did not know the workers as well as the families did not know that Madiba was detained here, so it was one of the best kept secrets,” says Jacobs.
Mandela took his first steps towards freedom when he walked out of this gate at the farm house which is now called Freedom Gate. And from here they took him by car and fifteen yards before the access gate he started to walk.
He was accompanied by his former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Madiba made his first address from a balcony at the Grand Parade. Many South African saw the release of Mandela as the beginning of freedom