| When FW de Klerk opened
parliament on the 2nd February 1990, few expected anything more than familiar
rhetoric. What he proclaimed astounded parliament and rippled in breaking news
around the world.
'FW' was regarded as a conservative, from a staunch National
Party family, who as Minister of Education had firmly maintained apartheid. He
ousted the sick PW Botha as President in 1989, raising fears of more 'reform
On that historic, unexpected, Friday he argued that in the face
of growing violence it was in the interest of all to begin a process of
political negotiation to establish 'a new and just constitutional dispensation
in which every inhabitant will enjoy equal rights, treatment and opportunity'.
He was declaring the end of apartheid.
To demonstrate good faith toward black leaders, and to remove
any justification for further insurrection, he made a number of dramatic
announcements. The ban on the ANC and other organisations was lifted, political
prisoners would be freed, various security regulations abolished, and Nelson
Mandela would be released as soon as possible 'to play an important part'. He
called on all leaders and the international community to support 'the dynamic
evolution which is taking place in South Africa'.
Newspapers revelled in 'the most epoch-making (speech) ever
delivered in South Africa' and parallels were quickly drawn with events in
Eastern Europe ('Pretoriastroika'). But, in contrast to those rapid
revolutions, South Africa had, in fact, four long and difficult years ahead.
Nelson Mandela had already held secret negotiations with de
Klerk for some months. He was living in a small house within Victor Verster
prison near the town of Paarl. On the hot, sunny afternoon of Sunday 11th
February he walked down the prison drive, toward a throng of delirious
supporters and the world's press.
Thousands lined the route from Paarl to Cape Town and many tens
of thousands gathered at the Grand Parade in central Cape Town. It was growing
dark when Mandela finally emerged onto the balcony of the City Hall to speak to
the excited throng. Amid cries of 'Viva the ANC' he was catapulted back into
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