On 2 February 1990, at the opening of the new (whites-only) Parliament in South Africa, President FW De Klerk announced the unbanning of the African National Congress, the Pan-Africanist Congress and the South African Communist Party. He also announced that Nelson Mandela was soon to be released from goal.
From the release of Walter Sisulu and other leading prisoners the previous October, it had become increasingly clear that Mandela’s release was going to be forthcoming. Since the 19 April 1986, the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group had maintained a Non-Stop Picket outside the South African Embassy in London and had pledged to stay there until Mandela was released from prison. With that event finally on the horizon, City Group suddenly had to prepare for the end of this long-running protest and make plans for a new phase of solidarity activism. Here I include an extract from a letter that City Group sent to its members and supporters on 18 January, outlining they planned to respond to the announcement of Mandela’s release.
On the day of the announcement, City Group held a celebration rally outside the South African Embassy, as planned. In typical fashion, the police did not allow the celebrations go unscathed – during the day they arrested one picketer, Leigh, for attempting to tie the black, green and gold colours of the ANC to the gates of the South African Embassy. The relationship of the anti-apartheid protestors to the space outside the Embassy had always been highly contested and it remained so until the very end of apartheid.
If you were part of the Non-Stop Picket, how did you feel when you heard that Mandela would be released?