On this day in 1990 the South African government made one of the most important announcements in its history: the banned African National Congress and all the other, smaller, anti-apartheid liberation movements, were to be unbanned. And the second part of the announcement was that Nelson Mandela was most likely going to be released from prison where he had been for 27 years.
For those of us who lived through apartheid, or most of it as in my case, the 1980s were the most frightening years. After almost 40 years of it, people had had enough. Protests, marches, violence, massacres by the police, states of emergency with restricted movements for all but mostly black people, we lived in a general state of internal revolt that could simply not go on. The entire world was watching and, for many different reasons, urging South Africa to end this system of legalised segregation. Apartheid has since been classified as a crime against humanity.
That day, 2 February 1990, was only the start. There were many hurdles to overcome, there were many more battles to be won, and there was a period in the early 1990s where, because of those who didn’t want the change to a democracy, we were on the brink of civil war, day after day. But this day in 1990 was the start of the end of living in a police state. Eventually, in April 1994, democratic elections were held for the first time and Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black President.
Why did the government eventually capitulate to end apartheid? The country was broke as a result of trade sanctions, we were diplomatically in the cold, and we were pariahs in the world of sport and culture. Many people were ashamed and scared to admit their nationality when travelling abroad, assuming they could even get a visa for certain countries. The pressure to negotiate for a democratic government came from within and without.
Read more about the turbulent years before the end of apartheid here.
Of course today, most South Africans are more aware of the fact that last night the President announced a lifting of our lockdown prohibition, and that’s what everyone is celebrating and rejoicing over today. I’ll do both – I’ll raise a glass to the end of the old way.