There was great joy and
celebrations by the public when Mandela was released from captivity on February
11, 1990. His imprisonment had lasted all of ten thousand days. Amidst a sea of
supporters and media, Mandela raised his right fist and the crowd responded
with a roar. In the final years of his imprisonment, Mandela had hesitatingly entered
into a dialogue with apartheid leaders, but he had not accepted any conditional
release that by-passed the democratic rights of his folks.

Now, the South African
economy was experiencing tremendous strain subsequent to the application of
international financial regulations and given the ongoing political volatility
inside the country. The growing economic effects of globalization demanded
conflict resolution. Internal differences were also increasing. A significant
factor in changing the dynamics of geopolitics and economy was the end of the
Cold War, which saw the removal of many obstacles to negotiations. The
socialist bloc in Eastern Europe had lost all importance and that meant that
the ruling National Party could no longer use the excuse of communism to not negotiate.
On February 2, ANC was unbanned and many political prisoners were released. Some
political reform was brought about by scrapping some pillars of apartheid such
as the Separate Amenities Act. Every one waited for Mandela to see if he could
do what others had found impossible: end apartheid and bring peace to the disturbed
country. Mandela immediately assumed leadership of the democratic movement. He
also toured the world to pay his gratitude to many countries and their peoples
for their cohesion. Over the next four years, Mandela led the movement towards
a transition to democracy, which was then a complicated process. His diplomatic
and tactical skills would be crucially needed.

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On February 13, 1990,
Mandela returned to his home in Soweto. He addressed a huge rally at Orlando
Football Stadium. He encouraged children to return to school, reiterating the
message of his open letter to the press sent while still in prison on January
27, 1990, in which he called on youth “to arm themselves with the most powerful
weapons of modern times—education, and education.” Mandela busied himself with political
work with the zest and enthusiasm of a young man as the ANC speedily and efficiently
re-established its structures. In the subsequent months, Mandela travelled the
globe raising funds, but heightened tension and the prospect of negotiations
soon required him to return home. During the negotiations between the ANC and
the government, Mandela was flexible on methods, but unyielding on principle,
and the great pressure for change from levels below him aided to maintain this
commitment. He was pressurised from all sides—white business wanted assurances
against nationalization of their wealth; black labour wanted a fair
redistribution of the national wealth which had previously always been denied
to Africans. Three days of talks early in May produced the Groote Schuur
Accord, in which the governing National Party and the ANC committed to a
process of negotiations and lessening of tension. In August, the Pretoria
Minute, a written agreement between the government and the ANC, solemnised
further release of political prisoners by the state, while the ANC agreed to postpone
all armed actions. Unfortunately, political violence destroyed neighbourhoods
in some parts of the country. The government was accused by many commentators. In
this crisis situation, Mandela and the team under his leadership went ahead,
calling in July 1991 for the setting up of an Interim Government. Mandela urged
peace in a frantic manner. At one political rally in Natal, he risked incurring
the wrath of his own supporters by urging them to give up violence and throw
their weapons into the sea. In September, he signed an important milestone, the
National Peace Accord. However, discussions remained prolonged, with
disagreements and periodic breakdown of talks.

A Transitional
Executive Council was agreed upon to prepare for elections for an interim
government. When, there was a massacre by pro-Inkatha armed hostel dwellers at
Boipatong township in June 1992, Mandela accused the regime of connivance and
broke off negotiations. The ANC and its allies, the COSATU labor federation and
the South African Communist Party, now called the Tripartite Alliance, launched
a campaign of continuous protests.

After a few months, the
negotiation and talks resumed. However, Mandela had lost a lot of supporters
owing to his penchant for using peaceful and non-violent means and also because
a local ANC leader had been brutally murdered and the people were still enraged
and grieving. Mandela, agreed to contest the elections. Inkatha, which had
withdrawn from talks, at the last minute agreed to participate in the election.
Mandela had worked hard to dissuade the fears of all parties. Media images of
him drinking tea with the aging widow of Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid
were circulated and they led Afrikaners to believe that political change could
be accommodated in their own culture and interests. Mandela had also taken into
account the international dimensions of ending apartheid. From 1990, he travelled
widely, thanking countries for their support and raising much-needed funds for
the ANC’s future electoral needs. Once initial negotiations were agreed upon,
in June 1990 embarked on a six-week tour of Europe, the United Kingdom, North
America, and Africa, everywhere he was greeted with acclamation and respect by
heads of state. Hundreds of thousands of people assembled when he addressed
huge crowds at Yankee and Tiger Stadiums. He received a standing ovation from
the U.S. Congress. Later in 1990, Mandela visited Norway, Zambia, India, and
Australia, and in 1991 West Africa and South America. He also met U.S.
President George H. W. Bush in December. In the same month, Mandela addressed
the United Nations General Assembly in New York, urging continued sanctions
until the free elections happened. It was in the interest of ANC to open space
to negotiations, and hence it encouraged the partial lifting of sports
sanctions but continued to protest against hasty lifting of economic sanctions,
worried that change could easily still be thwarted. However, in September 1993,
while visiting the United States, Mandela drafted a change strategy, which
urged the withdrawal of economic sanctions. To encourage investment, he indicated
that the ANC’s Freedom Charter policy of nationalization was only one possible
policy option. While raising funds for the elections, sometimes Mandela
encountered dilemmas in accepting money. He received generous donations both
from Indonesian military dictator Suharto, who violently oppressed the human
rights of the people of his own country and those of East Timor. On the other
hand, those countries had been opponents of apartheid, as had many other states
including Cuba and Libya, which Mandela continued to treat as friendly because
of their unity. He found understated ways to encourage conflict resolution: in
September 1994, he urged Suharto to initiate dialogue with East Timorese
resistance leaders and later met with resistance leader Xanana Gusmão. For the changeover
to democracy to succeed, there was a need for compromise and social understanding.
Mandela had vehemently questioned De Klerk’s integrity and held him partially
responsible for dangerous attacks on ANC supporters. On the other hand in 1993,
when two men jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize “for their work for the
peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for
a new democratic South Africa.”, Mandela also lauded De Klerk for having had
“the courage to admit that a terrible wrong had been done to our country and
people.”

On the personal front,
Mandela was facing distress. The long years of prison, followed by his intense
political obligations had taken a toll on his marriage. He announced his
separation in a press conference in April, 1992 and his divorce happened 4
years later. His daughter Zindzi also accused him of being the “father of the
nation” more than her own father.

The elections were due
and all public attention was focussed on it. Could the ANC garner enough votes
in its own right to form the government? As Mandela was attending the endless
negotiation meetings, he realized that the ANC was at a competitive
disadvantage compared to the well-established and well-funded National Party of
De Klerk. More than seventeen million Africans had never voted, and most lived in
rural areas, with literacy rates as low as 33%. Mandela campaigned tirelessly
for the elections. He stood firm against Buthelezi, who  had initially wanted the elections to be
delayed but who, at the eleventh hour, agreed to participate. Nelson Mandela’s
role in this transition period was fundamental. He united and mobilized
Africans and their allies as never before. Internationally, he became a
much-admired celebrity who was accorded great respect. But Mandela always
maintained that many other individuals and organizations also were instrumental
in this historical transition process. De Klerk broke the deadlock of rigid
Afrikaner politics. Many prominent personalities, such as Archbishop Tutu and
other church leaders like Beyers Naudé, and ANC and National Party leaders such
as Cyril Ramaphosa and Rolf Meyer, Thabo Mbeki, and Joe Slovo were firmly supporting
the peace process. In addition, hundreds of thousands of ordinary South
Africans had had enough of violence and racism, and owing to their attendance
at countless rallies they “voted with their feet” in favour of democracy. Yet,
it was Mandela who had initiated and then led this process to its conclusion,
providing much needed inspiration, motivation and leadership at every turn. It
had undoubtedly been a “long walk to freedom,” and Mandela anxiously but
optimistically awaited the outcome of the election.

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