11 Feb 2010

Mandela's walk to freedom – I was there

I was there! Can it be 20 years since he walked to freedom? We had no idea even what he looked like as we waited for his promised release. We clasped a 27-year-old photo of a swarthy, dark-haired man with a centre parting.

Which would be Nelson Mandela amid the throng surging around his hut at the far end of the prison? Our vantage point was on the road outside the prison gates.

We were not allowed independently to film Mandela’s release. SABC, the apartheid regime’s still new state TV outfit, was the sole broadcaster. Madela was an hour late. I was commentating live to London. At one point the bulky Afrikaans cameraman fell asleep and his camera drooped on its tripod.

What was I to say of the range of shoes and legs still transmitting live to London? I told it as it was: “So little do these people care, they’ve fallen asleep,” I said.

I cared. I had been thrown out of university for an anti-apartheid sit-in. When I saw him, I knew it was him, striding, arm held high , finger’s intertwined with Winnie’s. I cried, and not for the last time. I was completely overwhelmed. There was no need to say anything, I wouldn’t have been able to. In any case, each frame of film told a thousand words.

And he did not disappoint.

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