South Africans can never forget Friday, 2nd February 1990 in a hurry. Perhaps, you have forgotten but history will not. On this day, former president FW de Klerk lifted the 30-year ban on African National Congress – ANC. In fact, 2nd February 2016 marks the 26th year Klerk announced Nelson Mandela’s freedom.
Cape Town witnessed the presence of pressmen from all corners of the world. They all were there to get first-hand information of the news. Television cameras crowded the event center. Grand parade and Green square housed many young whites, who were seen with black demonstrators carrying ANC’s banned flag in overwhelming excitement.
It is pertinent to note that during the apartheid regime, ANC topped the anti-apartheid group list and was manned by South Africa’s charismatic leader Nelson Mandela. Not only that, Klerk also announced the release of Nelson Mandela.
Overwhelmed with the anticipated freedom of Mandela, Archbishop Mpilo Desmond Tutu was found in St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, ready to celebrate the event.
That day, thousands of South Africans watched and paid great attention to every single thing Klerk said. He had taken to the podium after the speaker of the parliament rendered an opening prayer. He began, speaking partly in English and partly in Afrikaans. Minutes later, he unbanned the ANC and 30 other parties.
He was kind enough to suspend death penalties, lift the state of emergency imposed in some phases, grant freedom to different trade unions, release detained political prisoners and lift restriction on political exiles. To crown it all, Klerk promised all and sundry present “a totally new and just constitutional dispensation in which every inhabitant will enjoy equal rights, treatment and opportunity.”
Of a truth, he meant business when he told ANC and other parties “walk through the open door and take your place at the negotiating table”. Not only that, he urged international communities to support ‘the dynamic evolution which is taking place in South Africa’.
Saying that Klerk’s announcement on that day marked South Africa’s freedom from the shackles of the whites won’t be far from the truth. Nine days after his landmark announcement, Nelson Mandela walked on South African streets as a free man. He was not alone however, his heart-throb – Winnie Mandela solidified his freedom by walking beside him.
Perhaps, many did not understand what that meant. It meant that Nelson Mandela will be free to thicken his anti-apartheid campaigns, fortify more strategic plans for freedom, spearhead ANC emancipation movements and importantly, walk freely like any other human.
But, the man who made this come true faced a lot of challenges. Klerk was attacked by political opponents and even by his party members for his decisions. In fact, many believed that he escaped a civil war that would have launched South Africa into chronic and devastating pains.
After the presidential announcement, the Democratic party (opposition party) widely accepted Klerk’s speech, while the president’s party (National party) couldn’t bear the pains. Townships and Cape town streets were flooded with happy celebrants. Headlines like “ANC UNBANNED” made waves as newspaper vendors doled out hundreds of copies to willing readers. Archbishop Tutu was like – “Just wait till de Klerk sits down with Tambo. They will discover how South African they both are!”
Three years later, Mandela and Klerk clinched their Nobel Peace Prizes at Oslo. What are political legends for?
Mandiba spent 27 years in prison on Robben Island. But on 11th February, on a hot, sunny Sunday afternoon, he walked down the prison drive, towards a throng of euphoric supporters, amid cries of “Viva of ANC”.
Did Klerk Regret His Action?
“We had planned for February 2 in great detail, and it is remarkable it didn’t leak, “My objective that day was to convince both our friends and our foes alike that we had made the paradigm shift”. That morning, Klerk said he awoke with a “sense of destiny – I knew South Africa would never be the same again but I also believed I was doing the right thing at the right time.”