As struggle stalwarts commemorated former president Nelson Mandela’s release from prison 30 years ago in 1990, some also lamented that the last 10 years were “from hell”.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation gathered some of the members of Madiba’s reception party at the house he lived in at the Victor Verster Prison, today called the Drakenstein Correctional Facility, outside Paarl.
They included former ministers Valli Moosa, Trevor Manuel, Sydney Mufamadi, former national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka and former head of the Special Investigation Unit’s Asset Forfeiture Unit Willie Hofmeyr, businessman Saki Macozoma, Roseberry Sonto, who drove Mandela from Paarl to Cape Town on that day, and Jack Swart, who guarded Mandela in the final years of his incarceration.
Roseberry Sonto, who drove Madiba from Paarl to Cape Town after his release, attended the commemoration. (Jan Gerber, News24)
Also in attendance was Australian cricketing great Shane Warne, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa and his deputy Nocawe Mafu.
The general consensus among the members of the reception committee was that South Africa today is a better place thanks to the events that followed February 11, 1990.
But Manuel described the past decade as “10 years of hell”. He said he still believed the ANC didn’t concede too much to the apartheid regime during negotiations for the Constitution.
“What was not done is socialise the Constitution,” he said. “Our responsibility is to recognise what is wrong.”
He said President Cyril Ramaphosa was correct when he said South Africa had lived through 10 years of hell.
“By 2014, the Guptas were not even an issue,” he said.
Hofmeyr said: “We did go through 10 very bad years. State capture is the correct term for what happened over the last 10 years.”
He said those issues were being dealt with and the Zondo commission into state capture is very important.
Hofmeyr added there was a bit of naivety in writing the Constitution with regard to the powers it gives the president to appoint officials and there aren’t strong enough systems in the state.
“Those problems can be dealt with,” he said.
“We should also look at the unlimited powers of the president to appointment.”
Also present at the event was Arthur Fraser, commissioner of correctional services, formerly of the State Security Agency during the Zuma administration.
There was also time to reminisce.
Moosa told how, the day before his release, Mandela dictated to him the historic speech he would deliver the next day at the Grand Parade in Cape Town.
He said he raised an eyebrow when Mandela insisted on referring to then-president FW de Klerk as a man of integrity, but Mandela insisted.
Manuel said everything Mandela did was with great foresight. He said that during the negotiations, when De Klerk broke their trust, Mandela reminded him that he had referred to him as a man of integrity.
Ngcuka said they were ill-prepared for Mandela’s release in terms of logistics.
“We were bold and courageous, but little did we know what was ahead for us,” he said.
“We underestimated the power of Madiba.”
“The moment Madiba walked out of prison, the dynamics of this country changed.”
Mufamadi said while they weren’t ready logistically, they were “fully prepared politically”.
“You could see history walking in the way of the liberation movement, but we were ready,” he said.
After the event, several people approached the legendary leg-spinner Warne, who tormented South African batting line-ups in the 1990s and 2000s, to have their picture taken with him.
“I’m just here to pay my respects,” he told News24.