1989 was a momentous year all around the world. I wrote about it last year, as each month we rolled through the “twenty years on” anniversaries of everything from Tiananmen Square (June), the Ayatollah’s funeral chaos in Iran (June), hands across the Baltic Way (August), the Berlin Wall (November), Prague’s Velvet Revolution (November), Ceaucescu trial and death (December) and the banning of the Communist Party in Russia (December).
In my home country, South Africa, it took a few extra weeks, but we added our own amazing memory to this list.
On Friday, 2 February, 1990, FW de Klerk, the State President opened Parliament for the new year. In his “State of the Nation” address he stunned the world, and all of us in South Africa, by very calmly and simply saying the following:
“People serving prison sentences merely because they were members of one of these organisations, or because they committed another offence which was merely an offence because a prohibition on one of the organisations was in force, will be identified and released.”
The next week, on 11 February, Mandela walked free, and into history.
Can you remember where you were when it all went down 20 years ago? I was a conscript in the South African Airforce. I had a weekend pass starting that afternoon. A few of my friends and I made our way on the Saturday morning to the flea market at the bottom of Market street in Johannesburg, and bought ANC posters and T-shirts with various slogans on them. There were no T-shirts with Mandela’s face on them, as no-one knew what he looked like (no photos had ever been released from his time in jail). The next week there were amazing artist’s renditions of what he might look like, until we saw him walking out of jail.
I bought a t-shirt with the words of the freedom hymn, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika on them. This had been a banned song – now it is our national anthem. I wore that (alternating with a similar) t-shirt under my military uniform almost every day until the end of my conscription period later in 1990. I still have it!
It was amazing, world-shaping time. And today is twenty years from the moment that started it all. Read BusinessDay’s article on this story.