In February 1986 journalists investigating reports that the jailed ANC leader was having a check-up at Cape Town’s Medipark clinic caught – by accident – the first glimpse of him for 24 years.
Despite government denials that Mandela was at the clinic, news crews found they had inadvertently filmed him on security camera screens during an interview with a member of the hospital staff.
Photographer Rob Howing, who had seen Mr Mandela at the clinic, described him as having greyish, white hair, walking confidently but closely monitored by his four-man escort.
ITN South Africa Correspondent Peter Sharp, having shown the footage to Winnie Mandela, had her confirm the grainy images showing a man looking “fit and in control of his surroundings” was indeed her husband. Having been told by prison officials that he had not left his cell in Pollsmoor Prison, she was soon on the telephone demanding an explanation.
Despite demands for his release from within South Africa and internationally, the fact that the government had declared Mandela a “non-person” from the moment he was jailed, censoring news of him and banning all images from the mainstream media, meant that many of those calling for his freedom did not recognise their leader when Sharp showed them a photograph.
The new sighting of Nelson Mandela fuelled rumours among his millions of supporters in South Africa that his release was imminent. Sadly, they had four more years to wait.