South Africans on Friday marked the 32nd anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison which is credited for paving the way for a democratic transition ending the white minority rule.
Activist and lawyer Mandela had spent 27 years in prison for opposing apartheid which dehumanized Black Africans reducing them to second class citizens in their country of birth.
On Feb. 11, 1990, then President FW De Klerk ordered the release of Mandela from Victor Verster Prison in Cape Town.
“The release of Mandela set South Africa on a trajectory for peace and majority rule but in no way did it put a stop to apartheid and racism,” Dr. Mustafa Mheta, a senior researcher at the Media Review Network, a Johannesburg-based think tank, told Anadolu Agency.
He said Mandela’s release also avoided looming bloodshed and a civil war in the country at the time.
“Racism is very much alive and kicking in South Africa than before. There is chaos with people of all races accusing and counter-accusing each other,” he said.
Mheta, however, credits FW De Klerk, apartheid’s last president who died last November at the age of 85, for contributing immensely to South Africa’s current democratic dispensation.
“I think the country should honor De Klerk. He could have chosen to ignore and let war go on unabated, but he saw sense together with Mandela to sit down and talk culminating in the democratic dispensation the country is currently enjoying,” he said via telephone.
The legacy of De Klerk, who served as president from September 1989 to May 1994, draws mixed reactions, with some praising his role in ending apartheid and others accusing him of being responsible for the murders of people during the regime.
De Klerk who shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela, also served as deputy president under the new democratic dispensation under Mandela in 1994.
Some South Africans had criticized De Klerk for not apologizing for apartheid crimes such as treating millions of Blacks as inferior and sending them to Black homelands.
However, his foundation released a video shortly after his death in November showing a frail looking De Klerk addressing the criticism in a video message.
“Let me today, in the last message repeat: I, without qualification, apologize for the pain and the hurt, and the indignity, and the damage, to Black, brown and Indians in South Africa,” he said.
The former president said his views of apartheid had changed since the early 1980s.
– Nelson Mandela elected president
Shortly after his release from prison in 1994, South Africa introduced the first multiracial parliamentary elections which gave a landslide victory to Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) party.
Mandela became South Africa’s first black and democratic president in 1994.
Political commentator Iqbal Jassat said though Mandela’s release was a water shed moment, the role of massive uprising by oppressed masses demanding an end to apartheid and white supremacy should not be neglected.
“The push for change had been in the making for decades both domestically and internationally,” he said, adding: “So while it is true that De Klerk’s decision paved the way to a negotiated settlement that ushered in democracy, we would be naive to believe that he was being benevolent.”
“While the debate rages on whether the turning point was the De Klerk announcement for Mandela’s release or not, the fact is that apartheid had become untenable – both in theory and in practice,” Jassat said.
Saber Ahmed Jazbhay, a leading South African lawyer, told Anadolu Agency: “De Klerk played the role of a pallbearer of a dying ideology. He had no choice but to release Mandela in order to defuse the building up of pressure that would have ignited a full scale inter-racial civil war.”