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Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

been very solemn when the jour­nal­ists filed into the cham­bers.

“They handed out the speech… gave us time to read it through, and very soon the ex­cla­ma­tions started. As we turned the pages and got to the nub of it, the goose­bumps in­creased.

It was ab­so­lutely as­ton­ish­ing, and at that point Viljoen and Van der Merwe sought to in­ter­pret it and put Na­tional Party spin on it, but there was a clear im­pa­tience in the room. on­text was not nec­es­sary. We were sit­ting there with dy­na­mite and we needed to get out and con­vey it to our news­pa­pers, and for all of us this was our big­gest mo­ment, lit­er­ally enor­mous.”

De Klerk was looking at 1989 in a dif­fer­ent way in his speech. He called it a year of “change and ma­jor up­heaval”, but he chose at that point to con­cen­trate not on South Africa but on Easter n Europe and the Soviet Union, and the “un­stop­pable tide”.

“The year will go down as the year in which Stal­in­ist Com­mu­nism ex­pired. Th­ese de­vel­op­ments will… also be of decisive im­por­tance to Africa. The col­lapse par­tic­u­larly of the Marx­ist eco­nomic sys­tem… also serves as a warn­ing to those who in­sist on per­sist­ing with it in Africa… It should be clear to all that it is not the an­swer here ei­ther.”

The mes­sage was still largely am­bigu­ous to the rest of the coun­try as De Klerk con­tin­ued. But by then the jour­nal­ists had long run back to their offices at Par­lia­ment and called their ed­i­tors.

Dunn says his boss, sit­ting at con­fer­ence with a full ed­i­to­rial team around him, had asked calmly: “What does it con­tain?”

“And I said: ‘ Ev­ery­thing. He’s done it all. He’s un­banned Man­dela, the ANC, the SACP. He’s ended the death penalty. He’s gone the whole hog. It was amaz­ing.’ ”

By that time, the BBC, Sky TV, the Cana­dian Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion and other net­works around the world were get­ting ready to broad­cast. High-level ANC spokes­peo­ple like Mendi Msi­mang and Ruth Mom­pati had been co-or­di­nated and were be­ing miked up. In Zam­bia, Le­sotho, Zim­babwe and other neigh­bour­ing states where the ANC had har­boured its ex­iles, the word was start­ing to spread. Con­tacts were be­ing tapped at news desks back home. The em­bargo was ag­o­nis­ing.

In an­other part of Cape Town, ANC vet­eran James April – who served in the 1967 Wankie Cam­paign with the late Chris Hani and was re­leased from Robben Is­land in 1986 – had been qui­etly ex­pect­ing the news. Friends had called him to the TV for the an­nounce­ment.

“A lot of us were feel­ing that way. Some of the top lead­er­ship, Wal­ter Sisulu, Kathrada, Ray­mond Mh­laba, Os­car Mpetha, had al­ready been re­leased the Oc­to­ber be­fore, of course, and that had been pre­ceded by the moves in 1985 to have Man­dela re­leased. So cer­tainly by 1990, peo­ple were ex­pect­ing things to hap­pen.

“An at­mos­phere of ex­pec­ta­tion had been build­ing. Peo­ple had al­ready been con­sid­er­ing the im­pli­ca­tions and there was a lot of ac­tiv­ity tak­ing place in the coun­try, but it was a dif­fi­cult pe­riod be­cause po­lice were clamp­ing down again. There was lots of vi­o­lence and dark forces do­ing un­told dam­age in re­la­tions be­tween blacks and whites at the time.

“But as De Klerk car­ried on speak­ing, he be­gan to sound very bold in terms of be­ing able to per­suade the bet­ter part of the white pop­u­la­tion to turn over to a new dis­pen­sa­tion. Of course, they were still in power, but he was us­ing some fairly skil­ful po­lit­i­cal ma­noeu­vring to win the con­fi­dence of the white peo­ple in that speech.”

De Klerk was about half­way through his speech when the truth be­gan to be­come clear to most or­di­nary peo­ple lis­ten­ing.

“The pro­tec­tion of col­lec­tive, mi­nor­ity and na­tional rights may not bring about an im­bal­ance in re­spect of in­di­vid­ual rights. It is nei­ther the gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy nor its in­ten­tion that any group… shall be favoured above or in re­la­tion to any of the oth­ers.”

Jakkie Cil­liers, now ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies, had only re­cently left the mil­i­tary as an army of­fi­cer on the bor­der, and was at home in Hon­ey­dew, Joburg, watch­ing the speech on tele­vi­sion. He said it took his breath away. “I re­mem­ber say­ing to my wife, I don’t think the sky has fallen, but it may. It was amaz­ing, and I had a sense then that it was go­ing to have a pro­found ef­fect on my life, which of course it did.

“It was a very emo­tional mo­ment. Sud­denly the fu­ture had changed, and in­stantly there was both ex­cite­ment and trep­i­da­tion. Sud­denly, the civil war that was bear­ing down on South Africa like an on­com­ing train, that spec­tre, just lifted.

“I think few peo­ple think now about the fact that the coun­try was at war. Be­cause I had been in the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment, it had given me quite a deep un­der­stand­ing of what was hap­pen­ing, but of course none of this would have hap­pened had it not been for the global de­vel­op­ments. We were go­ing steadily up a one-way street, a dead-end street, and some­thing had to change. f course, the right his­tor­i­cal con­di­tions need the right lead­er­ship, and that speech was key to a mo­men­tous, rev­o­lu­tion­ary time of great so­cial mo­bil­i­sa­tion.”

De Klerk had an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence, and a cap­tive na­tion, by the time he got to the point.

“The steps that have been de­cided are the fol­low­ing: the pro­hi­bi­tion of the African Na­tional Congress, the Pan African­ist Congress, the South African Com­mu­nist Party … is be­ing re­scinded. Peo­ple serv­ing prison sen­tences merely be­cause they are mem­bers of th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions… will be iden­ti­fied and re­leased.”

Im­me­di­ately, South Africans from many com­mu­ni­ties rum­bled into the streets, many rush­ing, tears stream­ing, into each other’s arms.

Some screamed. Some lifted their neigh­bours into the air. Peo­ple sang. They were giddy. They ul­u­lated to raise an in­cal­cu­la­ble joy. For the first time, it would be true to be­lieve in the word of lib­er­a­tion. How­ever long it would take, what­ever would hap­pen next, there would be no turn­ing around.

Kwaito pi­o­neer and mu­sic leg­end Arthur Mafokate was a teenager in Soweto caught up in the cries and singing, the danc­ing and pray­ing that swept through his neigh­bour­hood.

“You know we al­ways read the Bi­ble about when Moses saved peo­ple, when Je­sus would lead peo­ple into heaven, and on that day, when we re­alised this meant Man­dela was com­ing out, we just felt free, Mafokate said.

“It was crazy. Our par­ents had al­ways built things up on hope and for us the hope that was built that day about when he comes out, was huge.

“We had al­ways had this be­lief that we would grow up and then we would have to also fight for that free­dom. There would be no other way, but sud­denly ev­ery­thing was dif­fer­ent.”

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