On 10 February 1990, President F W de Klerk told the world that Nelson Mandela was going to be released the next day. All over South Africa, the news was greeted with jubilation and rejoicing. One of Learn and Teach’s writers describes the scenes of joy in Hillbrow, Johannesburg.
Late on Saturday afternoon, one of my colleagues rushed into my Hillbrow flat with her two daughters. All three of them were smiling from ear to ear.
“Comrade,” she greeted me. “Have you heard that our leader, Nelson Mandela, will be released tomorrow afternoon? My daughter, Mpho, has just heard the announcement on the radio.”
We grabbed the radio and tuned into the news on Channel 702 to hear if the story was true. “The State President, F W De Klerk, has announced in a press conference in Cape Town,” went the news programme on the radio, “that the longest serving political prisoner and leader of the ANC, Mr Nelson Mandela, will be released tomorrow at three o’ clock…”
We didn’t wait until the news announcer had finished reading the sentence. We were all jumping up and down with happiness, running around the flat, hugging each other and shouting with joy.
There was a lot of noise inside the flat, but outside on the streets the noise was deafening.
Thousands of people were running around the streets, singing freedom songs, toyi-toying, chanting slogans and ululating. “Long Live ANC! Long Live Comrade Mandela!” was on the lips of every person. The black, green and gold banner of the ANC was flying sky high. Cars were hooting and fists were raised in a victory salute.
People from all different walks of life were celebrating. The poor, the homeless, the twilight children, young professionals and students were all there — united as one community. It was the first time I had seen the Hillbrow community joined as one.
Within minutes, there were thousands of people sitting on the pavement and steps of High Point Building in Kotze street. One comrade got up to make a speech. “We are meeting here to celebrate the release of our comrade leader, Nelson Mandela,” he said. “We want to make it very clear that he was released by the struggles of the masses of our people, not by the apartheid regime.” “Viva!” we all answered.
As we chanted slogans and listened to speeches, a police casspir drove by. Comrade Benedict Selepe, a JOYCO member stood up to speak. “Comrades, let’s show these police that we are following the ANC’s proud history of peaceful resistance. I am calling on all of us here to celebrate our leader’s release as disciplined political cadres of the MDM.”
Comrade Benedict then sugggested that we march down the streets of Hillbrow. “Let’s educate those who are not part of us about the release of our leader!” he said to shouts of “Amandla!”
Even though comrade Benedict stressed that we must be disciplined, a few comrades did not seem to listen. As we were marching along Kotze street, I saw one comrade take a banana from a fruit shop without paying. I was impressed to see other comrades grab him and take him back to the owner of the fruit shop.
They told him to give the banana back and to apologise to the shop owner. The undisciplined comrade did exactly that.
The marches in Hillbrow continued non-stop for the whole weekend. Even on Monday and Tuesday, after Comrade Mandela was released, the people of Hillbrow were still celebrating. At every march, the comrades talked about the need to be disciplined. Yes, discipline is a weapon of struggle.
Perhaps this is the most important lesson I have learnt. As our leader later said in his speech in Cape Town: “Only disciplined mass action will assure us of the victory we seek!”
Late on Tuesday night, I crawled into bed. My feet were sore from more than 72 hours of toyi-toying and my head was buzzing. Even though I was dead tired, I could not fall asleep. I kept thinking about the many people who had come together in Hillbrow to celebrate the release of Comrade Mandela.
It was wonderful to see people of all shapes and sizes and colours joining together as one. When I finally fell asleep, there was one thought in my mind: “Welcome Home Comrade Leader Mandela!”