This article was written in connection with the observance of the 70th birthday of Nelson Mandela in July 1988
Author : ES Reddy
"We are not calling for his release on humanitarian grounds. We are doing so on political grounds. We are saying that he is our leader. This is the acknowledged leader of the group that most blacks support, but more than that we are saying he is symbolic because we want all leaders, all political prisoners, released not on humanitarian grounds but on the grounds that this is going to be part of how we build up a climate conducive to negotiation."
- Bishop Desmond Tutu, interview on January 31, 1986
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has been in prison for over a quarter of a century - since August 5, 1962 - for leadership of his people in the struggle against racist oppression and for a non-racial democratic society.
Prison bars could not prevent him from continuing to inspire his people to struggle and sacrifice for their liberation. Public opinion polls have again and again shown that he is the most popular leader in the country. He has, indeed, grown in stature. As the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group observed in 1986, he has become "a living legend", galvanising the resistance in the country. The London Times described him as "the colossus of African nationalism in South Africa."
Mandela has become known and respected all over the world as a symbol of the struggle against apartheid and all forms of racism and a hero of African liberation.
He is the most honoured political prisoner in history. He has received prestigious international awards, the freedom of many cities, and honorary degrees from several universities. Musicians have been inspired to compose songs and music in his honour. A major international art exhibit was dedicated to him and some of the most prominent writers have contributed to a book for him. Even an atomic particle has been named after him.
Balthazar John Vorster, the architect of the repressive measures under which Mandela and his colleagues were jailed in the 1960s, vowed that they would remain in prison "this side of eternity". The regime prohibited the South African press from quoting them or even publishing their pictures without ministerial permission. It hoped that they would soon be forgotten.
But neither the South African people nor world public opinion have forgotten them. Vorster was obliged to bemoan in 1978 that Africa and the world see Nelson Mandela as the real leader of the black majority in South Africa.
The World Campaign for the Release of South African Political Prisoners, launched when he was charged in the "Rivonia trial" in 1963, has become one of the most powerful international movements of our time. All governments of the world have repeatedly called for his unconditional release, in the United Nations and other fora. Parliaments, trade unions, religious bodies and numerous other public organisations, as well as millions of people around the world, have joined the campaign which has greatly helped to educate world public opinion about the struggle in South Africa.
They call for the release of Nelson Mandela as the essential first step, to be accompanied and followed by the release of all other political prisoners, the ending of repression and state terrorism, the unbanning of the African National Congress and other people`s organisations, the dismantling of apartheid and the establishment of a non-racial democratic State.
Faced with pressure from the South African people and the international community, the Pretoria regime launched propaganda that Nelson Mandela was a "terrorist" and a "Communist" but failed. It offered him "conditional release" but was rebuffed. In its desperation, it has now even banned appeals and demands in South Africa for the release of political prisoners; the demands from the international community must grow stronger and be backed by effective action.
The World Campaign must be further strengthened this year, the year of the seventieth birthday of Nelson Mandela. For, the issue is not merely the freedom of a leader of the people but the future of South Africa and peace in southern Africa.
A campaign for peace and justice
The "Free Mandela" campaign has been a vital concern of the freedom movement in South Africa, as well as the solidarity movement around the world, for a quarter of a century. That is as it should be.
For Mandela represents freedom and democracy, and the urge for a peaceful transformation of South Africa from a land of racist oppression to a democratic State - from a source of conflict and war to a force for peace and cooperation - through a process of consultation, reconciliation and negotiation. He is in prison because he stands against a racist regime which seeks through violence and terror to perpetuate white supremacy, and has caused immense suffering all over southern Africa.
Mandela was a leader of the non-violent movement for freedom since the early forties, as founder and secretary of the ANC Youth League, as Deputy President of the African National Congress and as Volunteer-in-Chief of the "Campaign of Defiance of Unjust Laws", one of the great non-violent resistance movements in recent times. He suffered imprisonment, restrictions and harassment and even a four-year-long trial for treason under laws which progressively closed avenues for peaceful resistance.
After the Sharpeville massacre of peaceful demonstrators in 1960, the regime banned the African National Congress and detained Mandela for several months.
After release, he went underground and, at the request of an All-in African Conference, led the stay- at-home strike in protest against the establishment of a white racist Republic, demanding the convening of a national convention of the genuine representatives of all the people of the country to decide on its future. When that strike was suppressed by the use of massive military force, the movement abandoned its strict adherence to non-violence. He became head of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the multi-racial underground organisation, to reinforce mass mobilisation with sabotage and other armed actions. When Umkhonto initiated sabotage in December 1961, taking great care to avoid loss of human life, it proclaimed that its members prefer to achieve liberation without bloodshed and civil clash. It called for a change in the government and its policies in the best interests of all the people, black, brown and white.
The racist regime, for its part, relied on more violence. It embarked on an enormous expansion of its military forces and arms, and the militarisation of the entire white community, to resist the "winds of change" in Africa. It enacted a series of laws for preventive detention and restriction, laying down death sentences for political offences.
Mandela was arrested and sentenced on November 7, 1962, to five years` imprisonment for "incitement" of the strike in May 1961 and for leaving the country without a passport to meet African leaders. Mass arrests and detentions followed. Other leaders of the Umkhonto were caught at a farm in Rivonia on July 11, 1963. Mandela was brought to trial again with his colleagues - in what came to be known as "Rivonia Trial" - and sentenced to life imprisonment in June 1964.
Mandela had told the court in November 1962:
"I hate the practice of race discrimination and in my hatred I am sustained by the fact that the overwhelming majority of mankind hate it equally...
"I have no doubt that posterity will pronounce that I was innocent and that the criminals that should have been brought to court are the members of the Verwoerd government."
The United Nations and the international community condemned apartheid and repression, and demanded the release of Mandela and all other political prisoners. They have, in effect, fully endorsed Mandela`s declaration. By not heeding the demands of the United Nations and continuing repression, the apartheid regime has compounded its crimes.
The World Campaign is a continuing reaffirmation that the world stands behind Nelson Mandela and the cause he represents.
He is entitled to release on humanitarian grounds: even under the practice of the apartheid regime, persons sentenced to life imprisonment are released after about fourteen years, but Mandela and his colleagues have been given no remission or parole for 24 years.
But we do not seek mercy from the racist rulers of South Africa. We demand Mandela`s release because apartheid is a crime and the struggle against it is fully legitimate. We demand his release, above all, so that he can lead his people in ridding the country of racist tyranny and building a democratic State. That is imperative for peace in South Africa and in southern Africa as a whole.
Beginning of the Campaign
Soon after Mandela was arrested in 1962, the Pretoria regime banned all meetings to protest any arrests or trials. It placed Ahmed Kathrada, who initiated a "Free Mandela" campaign, under house arrest. It proceeded to detain and torture thousands of militants of the freedom movement in order to crush all resistance. Repression in South Africa became a matter of acute international concern.
On October 8, 1963, the day that Mandela and others were brought before the court in the "Rivonia trial", the United Nations began an emergency discussion of the situation. The Special Political Committee of the General Assembly heard Mr. Oliver Tambo, then Deputy President of the African National Congress, and the Right Reverend Ambrose Reeves, President of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement.
Three days later, on October 11, 1963, the General Assembly adopted resolution 1881 (XVIII) calling on the South African government to end repression of persons opposed to apartheid, abandon the Rivonia trial and release all political prisoners and all persons imprisoned, interned or restricted for having opposed the policy of apartheid. The resolution was adopted by 106 votes to 1, with only the South African delegation voting against.
(The date of that historic resolution - October 11th - was subsequently proclaimed by the United Nations as the Day of Solidarity with South African Political Prisoners.)
The British Anti-Apartheid Movement set up the World Campaign for the Release of South African Political Prisoners, with the sponsorship of several Members of Parliament and other public leaders. Jeremy Thorpe, Liberal Party Member of Parliament, was elected honorary secretary.
Since that time, the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid and the Anti-Apartheid Movement have worked in close cooperation in constantly publicising repression in South Africa and promoting international campaigns by governments and the public for the release of political prisoners. I must pay personal tribute to many members of the AAM - Jeremy Thorpe, Sonia Bunting, Ruth First, Abdul S. Minty, Mike Terry and others - for their dedicated efforts.
The UN Special Committee wrote to all governments to intercede with the South African regime and received wide response, with several Heads of State and Government taking prompt action.
The World Campaign in London, under the energetic direction of Jeremy Thorpe, approached leaders of public opinion all over the world and initiated petition campaigns.
In March 1964, it presented to the UN Secretary- General a declaration signed by 143 eminent personalities which declared:
"The men and women arrested in the Rivonia raid, with those joining them in trial, are at the centre of a government attempt to crush all resistance to white supremacy in South Africa. They would not face trial at all in any rational society; they are leaders of a popular struggle for the defeat of racist rule, for the recognition of rights regarded as natural wherever a common humanity is acknowledged. Their struggle is the struggle of all men for freedom; their trial is the trial of all men who want to be free...
"International opinion must act again, now, to ensure the release of the accused."
The signatories included writers and artists, academics, political, trade union and religious leaders, jurists and others such as: Louis Aragon, W.H. Auden, Simone de Beauvoir, Isaiah Berlin, Sir Hugh Casson, Isaac Deutscher, Barbara Hepworth, Bishop Trevor Huddleston, Sir Julian Huxley, Jomo Kenyatta, Arthur Koestler, Doris Lessing, Lord Listowel, Kingsley Martin, Otto Nathan, Dr. Joseph Needham, Sean O`Faolain, Harold Pinter, Satyajit Ray, Paul Robeson, Bishop Ambrose Reeves, Bertrand Russell, Upton Sinclair, Lionel Trilling, Kenneth Tynan, Angus Wilson, Ilya Ehrenburg and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The World Campaign followed with petitions signed by over 185,000 people, as well as organisations representing no less than 250 million people.
Demonstrations, deputations and other actions were organised by many groups and individuals around the world. In London, five members of the Committee of Afro-Asian-Caribbean Organisations went on a week-long hunger strike at St. Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, to demonstrate their concern over the Rivonia trial and other developments.
World opinion was somewhat relieved when Mandela and his colleagues were spared the death penalty and sentenced to life imprisonment. But the campaign had to continue for their release, and for the liberation of numerous others detained or sentenced for their opposition to apartheid. Indeed, there had to be scores of campaigns within the campaign, as repression increased.
Campaigns against death sentences and executions
Particularly alarming were death sentences imposed under the "sabotage act" of 1962, and other arbitrary laws, for political offences. Vuyisile Mini, Wilson Khayinga and Zinakile Mkaba, three leaders of the African National Congress and the South African Congress of Trade Unions in Port Elizabeth, were sentenced to death in March 1964. (Mini was also a composer and singer and had written many popular freedom songs). The indictment referred to a petrol bomb attack on the house of an informer which resulted in his death, but none of them was charged with direct participation in the attack.
Washington Bongco, an ANC leader in East London, was similarly sentenced to death in the same month under the "sabotage act".
A campaign against death sentences and executions was launched by the UN Special Committee and the World Campaign. The UN Security Council, in June 1964, called on South Africa to renounce the execution of any persons sentenced to death for their opposition to apartheid. Appeals for clemency were sent by a number of governments, trade unions and other organisations. But the three men in Port Elizabeth were hanged on November 6, 1964, and Mr. Bongco in February 1965.
Many campaigns against detentions and trials of opponents of apartheid and against death sentences have been launched since then by the anti-apartheid movements and other organisations, with the support of the UN Special Committee. They concerned a number of freedom fighters who have been executed: Solomon Mahlangu (executed on April 6, 1979); Jerry Mosololi, Marcus Motoung and Thelle Mogoerane (June 9, 1983); Benjamin Moloise, (October 18, 1985); Sipho Xulu, Clarence Payi and Sibuyiso Zondo (September 9, 1986); and Moises Jantjies and Wellington Melies (September 1987). Campaigns were successful in other cases: freedom fighters were spared the death sentence, or won appeals, or, as in the case of James Mange, had the sentences commuted because of international pressure.
The "no apartheid executions" campaign had to be greatly expanded in the past few years because of numerous trials with the threat of death sentences. The death sentences against the "Sharpeville Six" and the cases of thirty or more political prisoners on the death row are currently matters of acute concern.
Campaigns on prison conditions and torture of detainees
The Pretoria regime enacted a number of laws providing for arbitrary and indefinite detention of any persons suspected of political offences, and even potential witnesses.
The detainees are held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods, denied access to family, lawyers or even courts. The purpose is to break them, extract confessions or information on the underground movement - and to intimidate all those opposed to apartheid.
Reports began to be received from 1963 of prolonged solitary confinement and denial of exercise, contrary to international minimum standards, as well as brutal assaults and torture, including electric shocks. A large percentage of the detainees, so brutalised, were never even charged in court.
Persons sentenced to prison for political offences were automatically placed for a year or more in the "D" category meant for hardened and dangerous criminals, and allowed only one visit and a letter every six months. They were frequently beaten, humiliated and punished.
Numerous affidavits from former prisoners became available in 1964 and vigorous protests were organised by the UN Special Committee and the World Campaign. The campaign on prison conditions was further developed in 1966 when Dennis Brutus, a poet and sports leader who had spent 22 months in Robben Island prison, arrived in London and was appointed director of the campaign in the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa (IDAF).
In February 1967, the Special Committee requested the UN Commission on Human Rights to consider the grave situation and passed on the affidavits and other evidence to it. The Commission expressed its serious concern and established a Working Group of jurists to undertake an international investigation.
The consequent publicity and outrage persuaded the South African regime to make some improvements in prisons and to invite the delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the prisoners.
But to this day, that regime refuses to allow such visits to detainees or awaiting-trial prisoners. Thousands of detainees have been tortured and scores of members of the freedom movement have died in detention. The evidence of prison conditions, documented by international bodies, is a shocking indictment of the apartheid regime, its police, prison officials and courts.
Particularly shocking has been the detention of thousands of children under the State of Emergency since 1985. An International Conference on Children, Repression and Law in Apartheid South Africa (Harare, September 1987) attended by many children, parents and lawyers from South Africa, confirmed reports of systematic assaults and torture against children in detention. The outrage around the world persuaded the apartheid regime to release many children but there are still far too many in detention.
Assistance to political prisoners and their families
The campaigns against arbitrary trials and executions, and against torture of political prisoners, have been accompanied by efforts to provide legal assistance to the prisoners and welfare grants to their families facing hardship.
The Defence and Aid Fund and other organisations had been raising funds from the public since the 1950s for such assistance to the victims of repression in South Africa, but the needs greatly increased with the escalation of repression since 1963. There was again an enormous increase after the institution of the State of Emergency in 1985 and the detention of tens of thousands of people.
Following appeals by the UN Special Committee and General Assembly since 1963, a number of governments have made annual contributions to the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa (IDAF) or to the United Nations Trust Fund for South Africa for humanitarian assistance to South African political prisoners and their families.
The governmental and public contributions have been a demonstration of solidarity with the political prisoners. They have helped alleviate suffering faced by thousands of families. Legal assistance, moreover, helped to curb the excesses of the South African Police and secure the acquittal, or reduction of sentences, of thousands of persons charged with political offences.
Release of all political prisoners - a prerequisite for a solution
While specific campaigns and activities had to be constantly undertaken, the basic issue remained that an amnesty to political prisoners is essential to a negotiated and relatively peaceful solution of the crisis in South Africa. On this, there has been virtual unanimity in the international community.
The United Nations annually adopted resolutions calling for the release of South African political prisoners, with the unanimous support of all Member States.
In 1975 - in connection with the thirtieth anniversary of the United Nations - its General Assembly proclaimed that "the United Nations and the international community have a special responsibility towards the oppressed people of South Africa and their liberation movements, and towards those imprisoned, restricted or exiled for their struggle against apartheid." It recognised the contribution of the liberation movements and other opponents of apartheid in South Africa to the purposes of the United Nations; expressed its solidarity with all South Africans struggling against apartheid and for the principles of the Charter of the United Nations; and again called upon the racist regime of South Africa "to grant an unconditional amnesty to all persons imprisoned or restricted for their opposition to apartheid or acts arising from such opposition, as well as to political refugees from South Africa, and to repeal all repressive laws and regulations restricting the right of the people to strive for an end to the apartheid system."
Public activity paralleled the United Nations resolutions. Petitions for the release of Mandela and other political prisoners continued to arrive at the United Nations from many countries. In March 1978, for instance, the British Anti-Apartheid Movement delivered petitions signed by about 45,000 persons in four countries: petitions with about 40,000 signatures came directly from seven other countries. (This collection of petitions followed a recommendation of the World Conference for Action against Apartheid, held in Lagos in August 1977).
Observance of the Sixtieth Birthday of Nelson Mandela
By the 1970s, the liberation movement in South Africa recovered from the blows it had suffered in 1963-64, and a national upsurge followed the massacre of hundreds of African schoolchildren in Soweto on June 16, 1976. Defying the laws, the black people held mass demonstrations showing their loyalty to the ANC and hailing Nelson Mandela as their leader.
The world-wide observance of the sixtieth birthday of Nelson Mandela on July 18, 1978, became a very effective demonstration of solidarity.
More than ten thousand letters and telegrams were sent by governments, organisations and individuals to Nelson Mandela on Robben Island prison or to Winnie Mandela, then confined to the remote dorp of Brandfort.
Meetings were held in many capitals, including one in the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons in London under the sponsorship of the UN Special Committee, the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa.
Prime Minister James Callaghan of the United Kingdom paid tribute to Mandela on the floor of the House of Commons and sent good wishes to him on behalf of the government. Several members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers also sent personal greetings.
Reference was made to the event in the United States Congress by Congressman John Conyers. The National Assembly of Lesotho adopted a resolution calling for the release of political prisoners and an end to apartheid.
Posters, greeting cards, badges etc., were produced in many countries and a photographic exhibit - "The Struggle is My Life" - by IDAF was shown widely. Millions of people saw a 60-minute television spot supplied by the United Nations to television stations.
Campaign by Sunday Post and International Response
After the victory of the Patriotic Front in the elections in Zimbabwe in March 1980, on the eve of that country`s independence, the continuing crisis in South Africa attracted new attention. Even Prime Minister P.W. Botha spoke of the need for a conference of "all races" in the country.
Percy Qoboza, editor of Sunday Post in Johannesburg, launched a campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela, and received enormous support in South Africa and internationally. He wrote in an editorial on March 9, 1980:
"... the time has come for all of the peoples of the country to face the realities of our situation squarely in the face...
"One of the realities we must face up to is that Nelson Mandela commands a following that is unheard of in this land. To embark on any solution or discussion without his wise input would only be following the blind politics of Ian Smith and Muzorewa in Zimbabwe and the outcome would be just as disastrous.
"For this reason, and for the sake of bringing about genuine peace and reconciliation in our trouble torn land, we ask you to join us in having Nelson Mandela released as soon as possible."
A petition sponsored by Sunday Post soon received over 86,000 signatures and was supported by many organisations and leaders of opinion. A Release Nelson Mandela Committee was formed in the same month with Mrs. Nokukhanya Lutuli (wife of the late Chief Albert Lutuli) as patron.
The South African Council of Churches declared, in supporting the petition:
"We believe that the Church, in its role as peacemaker, must help the people of South Africa to avoid needless suffering and bloodshed... Such suffering can only be avoided if Mandela and other leaders in prison or in exile are enabled to share in the reshaping of a unitary South African society more conformed to God`s will for justice and peace."
Zinzi Mandela expressed the spirit of the campaign in a speech at the University of Witwatersrand on March 20, 1980:
"My generation have seen grave crimes of oppression committed against the people. We grew up discussing the latest pass raids, whose father had been detained, who has lost a parent in detention, or in which prison one of your parents is, when last they were visited, when the last police raid was in your home...
"I have seen the anger of my people mounting. But perhaps with the release of my father, there could be an alternative to the bloodbath."
The release of Mandela became an issue uniting the broadest segments of the South African people. All black leaders with any following, as well as several white leaders, expressed support.
The demand in South Africa was immediately supported internationally by the UN Special Committee, the Anti-Apartheid Movement and others.
For the first time, both the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations specifically mentioned Nelson Mandela in calling for the release of South African political prisoners. (Security Council resolution 473 of June 13, 1980 and General Assembly resolution 35/206 of December 16, 1980).
The Summit Conferences of the Organisation of African Unity and the Commonwealth called unanimously for the release of Nelson Mandela, as did the European Parliament representing a wide spectrum of political affiliations. Many governments and national Parliaments and numerous organisations joined in the demand.
In August 1981, the City of Glasgow awarded the Freedom of the City to Nelson Mandela. Later that year, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, the Right Honourable Michael Kelley, with the encouragement of the UN Special Committee, initiated a Declaration of Mayors for the immediate and unconditional release of Nelson Mandela and all other political prisoners in South Africa.
Two thousand two hundred and sixty-four Mayors from 56 countries signed the Declaration.
Extension of the Campaign in 1982
On August 5, 1982, the twentieth anniversary of the arrest of Nelson Mandela, the President of the African National Congress and the Chairman of the UN Special Committee called for an expansion of the campaign: their appeal was supported by anti-apartheid movements and many other organisations. On October 11th, Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, President of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, launched an international declaration which read in part:
"We cannot accept that Nelson Mandela and other imprisoned leaders would be allowed to spend the rest of their lives in the dungeons of apartheid.
"We refuse to believe that the world can any longer tolerate the defiance of the South African authorities in the face of world-wide appeals for the release of Nelson Mandela.
"We, therefore, declare our determination actively to strive for the release of Nelson Mandela and all South African political prisoners and urge the United Nations and their governments and peoples of the world to join us in this endeavour."
The declaration was signed by tens of thousands of persons from more than seventy countries, including numerous Members of Parliament and other public leaders. The UN Secretary-General also received many other petitions and declarations from various organisations around the world.
The campaign continued through the 65th birthday of Nelson Mandela (July 18, 1983) which was observed in many countries. More than 20,000 young people in the German Democratic Republic alone mailed postcards to him.
Awards and Honours to Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela had so inspired millions of people around the world that they spontaneously found means to honour him and thereby declare solidarity with the cause of freedom to which he dedicated his life.
Already in the 1960s, the student unions at the University College in London and the University of Leeds elected him their honorary President.
He received the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1980; the Freedom of the City of Glasgow in 1981; and the Bruno Kreisky Prize for Human Rights in 1981. A road in the borough of Brent in London was named after him in 1981.
Honours were also bestowed on other leaders of the liberation struggle.
Govan Mbeki, a colleague of Mandela, was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Amsterdam in 1978, and Walter Sisulu was given a doctorate by the Institute of African Studies in Moscow. The City of Amsterdam named a square after Steve Biko in 1978.
The UN Special Committee was heartened by these actions and, on its proposal, the UN General Assembly, on December 17, 1981, expressed "its appreciation to those governments, cities, organisations and institutions that have honoured the leaders of the struggle against apartheid imprisoned or restricted by the South African regime, as part of the campaign for the release of political prisoners in South Africa."
The Special Committee actively encouraged such honours as part of its efforts to widen the release Mandela campaign in 1982, and the response was overwhelming.
Nelson Mandela has received the Simon Bolivar International Prize, and the Third World Foundation Prize; national awards from Cuba and the German Democratic Republic; freedom of the cities of Rome, Florence, Olympia (Greece), Sydney, Birmingham (Alabama, USA), borough of Greenwich (London) and the borough of Islwyn (Wales); honorary degrees from the City College of New York, University of Lancaster (United Kingdom), Free University of Brussels, Ahmadu Bello University (Nigeria) and the University of Havana. Numerous institutions, buildings and streets around the world are named after him and he has been elected honorary member of many trade unions and other organisations.
His wife, Winnie Mandela, has been given a number of awards in recognition of her fortitude, sacrifice and courage. Several other leaders of liberation movement have been honoured.
New sense of urgency
The campaign took on a new sense of urgency with the unprecedented mass resistance in South Africa since the imposition of a new racist constitution in 1984, the institution of a State of Emergency in 1985, the detention and torture of tens of thousands of people and the constant killings of peaceful demonstrators.
The demands of the United Democratic Front, the trade unions and numerous other organisations - for the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners, the unbanning of the African National Congress and other people`s organisations, the ending of the State of Emergency and the dismantling of apartheid - received strong support from the international community.
The campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela took on a new sense of urgency.
In 1984, both Houses of the United States Congress adopted a "Mandela freedom resolution". Mayor Eugene "Gus" Newport of Berkeley, California, proclaimed June 9, 1984, "Nelson and Winnie Mandela Day". The Detroit City Council adopted a resolution on September 10, 1984, calling for the freedom of Nelson and Winnie Mandela.
On October 11, 1984, three United States organisations - the National Alliance against Racist and Political Oppression, the United States Peace Council and the National Anti-Imperialist Movement in Solidarity with African Liberation - presented to the United Nations petitions for the release of Nelson Mandela signed by over 34,000 persons.
In Britain, SATIS (South Africa - the Imprisoned Society), associated with the Anti-Apartheid Movement and supported by many organisations, greatly expanded its efforts.
A new National Petition campaign - Free All Apartheid`s Detainees - was launched on June 11, 1987, by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston and Norman Willis, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress, with the support of many organisations.
Concerned groups have taken imaginative initiatives to promote the campaign.
"Bicycle for Mandela" became an annual event in Britain on the birthday of Nelson Mandela. In the Netherlands, the Holland Committee on Southern Africa issued a Mandela coin as part of its campaign against the Krugerrands and as a means for fund-raising for the freedom movement.
In the United States, the Africa Fund, associated with the American Committee on Africa, initiated a campaign to "Unlock Apartheid`s Jails" under the honorary chairmanship of Bill Crosby, a popular TV personality. Supporters were invited to send keys as a demonstration of opposition to the detentions in South Africa.
The campaign was launched at the United Nations Headquarters on September 28, 1987, by Bill Crosby, together with the Mayors of six large cities in the United States. The Mayors presented keys to their cities to Bill Crosby and General J.N. Garba, Chairman of the UN Special Committee.
Mandela rejects conditional release
With the ever-growing demands in South Africa and internationally for the release of Nelson Mandela, the Botha regime tried new manoeuvres. It approached him in prison with an offer of release if he agreed to be confined to the so-called "independent" bantustan of Transkei or go into exile, but he refused.
Then, in January 1985, P.W. Botha publicly announced that the regime would consider his release if he gave undertakings to reject violence and to conduct himself "in such a way that he will not have to be arrested" under apartheid laws. Mandela`s response was announced by his daughter, Zinzi, at a public meeting in Soweto on February 10, 1985:
"I am surprised at the conditions that the government wants to impose on me. I am not a violent man. My colleagues and I wrote in 1952 to Malan asking for a round table conference to find a solution to the problems of our country, but that was ignored. When Strijdom was in power, we made the same offer. Again it was ignored. When Verwoerd was in power we asked for a national convention for all the people in South Africa to decide on their future. This, too, was in vain.
"It was only then when all other forms of resistance were no longer open to us that we turned to armed struggle. Let Botha show that he is different to Malan, Strijdom and Verwoerd. Let him renounce violence. Let him say that he will dismantle apartheid. Let him unban the people`s organisation, the African National Congress. Let him free all who have been imprisoned, banished or exiled for their opposition to apartheid. Let him guarantee free political activity so that people may decide who will govern them.
"I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom... I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I am prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free...
"What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? What freedom am I being offered when I may be arrested on a pass offence?... What freedom am I being offered when I must ask for permission to live in an urban area? What freedom am I being offered when I need a stamp in my pass to seek work? What freedom am I being offered when my very South African citizenship is not respected?...
" I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free.
"Your freedom and mine cannot be separated."
This declaration inspired the South African people and world opinion to redouble their efforts for the unconditional release of Nelson Mandela, the unbanning of the ANC and other organisations and other imperative measures.
Repression against campaign in South Africa
The Pretoria regime has constantly tried to suppress the campaign in South Africa for the release of Nelson Mandela which unites the people of South Africa more than any other - not only the entire black majority of the population but many whites who look to the future.
When Ahmed (Kathy) Kathrada initiated the campaign in 1962, it placed him under house arrest and banned all meetings of the campaign. In 1971, Mewalal Ramgobin initiated a Committee for Clemency in South Africa, and was elected its national chairman. The Committee received support of many prominent South Africans and presented a petition to the Minister of Justice for an amnesty to all political prisoners.
Mewalal was served with banning orders in 1971 to prevent him from continuing the campaign: he had to live for well over a decade under severe restrictions.
The Sunday Post, which initiated a petition campaign for the release of Mandela in 1980 was soon closed down. Its editor, Percy Qoboza, was restricted. Its news editor, Zwelakhe Sisulu, was served with severe banning orders and then detained for many months.
"Release Mandela Committees" were set up in different regions of the country in 1983 - and a national organisation launched in April 1987 - to stress the need to devise means for the authentic leaders of the people, in jail and in exile, "to play a role in drawing the country out of the political quagmire into which it was inexorably sinking". Many trade unions and other organisations joined the Committee.
The RMC has been constantly harassed with many of its public meetings banned. Its offices were repeatedly raided by the police and in March 1986, its Johannesburg office was damaged by a bomb or arson.
Aubrey Mokoena, its national coordinator, was arrested many times. Paul David, its secretary, was served with banning orders in August 1984 and then held for several months on a charge of treason.
In August 1986, a people`s march was organised from Cape Town to the Pollsmoor prison, where Mandela is confined, to give him a message which said in part:
"You have not sold the birthright of your people to be free, and we will not rest until you are free."
The Reverend Allan Boesak, who was to lead the march, was arrested before it took place. The marchers were attacked by police.
In February this year, the regime banned activities by 17 organisations, and restricted many of their leaders. The Release Mandela Committee was one of the organisations which was affected, as were the Detainee Parents Support Committee (aiding families of detainees) and the Detainees Support Committee (assisting detainees after release). Jabu Ngwenya, treasurer of RMC, was restricted. The regime specifically prohibited campaigns for the release of political prisoners and the unbanning of organisations.
Alarmed at the implications of these measures, church leaders organised a peaceful march from St. George`s Cathedral in Cape Town to the Houses of Parliament to present a petition to Prime Minister P.W. Botha. The police arrested Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Catholic Archbishop Stephen Naidoo, the Reverend Allan Boesak (President of the World Lutheran Federation) and the Reverend Frank Chikane (General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches) and other leaders of the march. They then attacked the other clergy and their supporters with water cannon before removing them forcibly in police vans.
Carry the Campaign Forward
For 25 years, the South African people and the world community have demanded the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners as the first essential step toward freedom and peace in South Africa. This account gives only some highlights of the campaign in numerous countries and communities.
Resisting these demands and keeping Mandela in prison, the racist regime has tried to perpetuate white domination at the cost of enormous suffering to the people. Thousands of people have been killed, injured and tortured, tens of thousands have been detained. The resources of the country have been squandered to build the military machine and to carry on an unceasing war against the people of South Africa, Namibia and the neighbouring independent African States.
The "Free Mandela" campaign is a call to stop this carnage and the drift to disaster. The racist regime is not only unwilling, but has proved incapable, of leading the country out of the morass. It is a criminal regime, devoid of any legitimacy, while Mandela represents the ideals cherished by humanity and has inspired the world even from prison. The campaign must not only continue with greater determination, but must be backed by all sanctions on the Botha regime to force it to heed reason.
Forty years of apartheid - and of the escalating repression, terror and aggression with which it sustains itself - are more than humanity can afford to tolerate.