Celebrating Nelson Mandela's release and our freedom,

11 February 1990.

Twenty years ago, after having spent 27 years behind bars, Nelson Mandela, the world’s most famous prisoner walked out of Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. Awe and disbelief was on the faces of many, expressions of overwhelming joy, people burst into the streets across the country, brandishing posters and flags banned for decades. Mandela has become an icon and moral authority of near universal appeal and South Africa a young democracy – reasons to celebrate this anniversary with some of the best films made about Mandela and the Anti-Apartheid movement, as well as raw footage that will transport audiences back to that hot Sunday in February 1990.

“By 3.30, I began to get restless, as we were already behind schedule. I told the members of the Reception Committee that my people had been waiting for me for twenty-seven years and I did not want to keep them waiting any longer (…).”  (Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Little, Brown & Company, London, 1994, page 552 & 553)

For decades, news coming out of South Africa focused on forced removals, repressive, racist laws, massacres, raids, torture, imprisonment. Headlines filled with tales of violence and suffering: Sharpeville, Soweto, Steve Biko and Ruth First, Matthew Goniwe and David Webster, the State of Emergency, letter bombs and hit squads.

On 2 February 1990, at the opening of parliament, President FW de Klerk surprised not only his own cabinet but the world at large when he announced the unbanning of banned political organizations and the unconditional release of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela.

“At first I could not really make out what was going on in front of us, but when I was within 150 feet or so, I saw a tremendous commotion and a great crowd of people: hundreds of photographers and television cameras and newspeople as well as several thousands of well-wishers. I was astounded and a little bit alarmed. I had truly not expected such a scene; at most, I had imagined that there would be several dozen people, mainly the warders and their families (…).”

“When I was among the crowd I raised my right fist, and there was a roar. I had not been able to do that for twenty-seven years and it gave me a surge of strength and joy. (…). As I finally walked through those gates to enter a car on the other side, I felt - even at the age of seventy-one - that my life was beginning anew. My ten thousand days of imprisonment were at last over."

Who is this man, the world was campaigning, picketing and waiting for? How did the liberation movements fight, mobilize and justify their struggle against oppression?

A unique selection of renowned local and international filmmakers and award-winning non-fiction films, as well as the raw historical footage of the day of Mandela’s release, take us back to one of the most significant historical events of the 20th century. They remind us of the pain, sacrifices, but also the joys, the indomitable spirit, the victories and the humanity that characterized the struggle.

The challenges facing South Africa remain significant two decades after Mandela’s long walk lead him out of jail – the reasons to celebrate, however, do too.

At a time where some miss the collective consciousness, the magic of the early 90s, the unity in purpose of the struggle years, and the electrifying mood, the excitement, the air filled with hope and possibilities, brotherhood and goodwill, these films provide insight and inspiration, allow audiences to take stock, draw parallels, reflect and debate, relive South Africa’s “Zero Hour” and make sure that we never forget what it took. Amandla! 

Patrons: Denis Goldberg & Andrew Mlangeni





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