Nelson Mandela died today, age 95. He was remembered by around the world as a remarkable leader whose spirit of forgiveness inspired and united his nation.

We look back on how the Herald responded to Mandela's release from jail in 1990 and "remarkable transition" from political prisoner to President.

After 27 years: Nelson's victory

The Herald editorial on Nelson Mandela from February 13, 1990.
The Herald editorial on Nelson Mandela from February 13, 1990.

As the world applauds Nelson Mandela's release, his eldest daughter makes two points that bear on South Africa's future. Madaziwe Mandela-Amuah, while emphasising the significance of the occasion, raises an undeniable corollary: South Africa still exists under apartheid laws. And she fears for her father's safety.

If anything the steps taken by the de Klerk Government have more rigidly defined the extremist ends of the spectrum. White conservatives will employ violence to maintain minority rule; black militants want to achieve black rule through revolution, not negotiation. As he is seen now, a symbol of black moderation, Mr Mandela is an obvious target. His daughter's fears are well founded.


The universal prayer is that Mr Mandela free is as effective a rallying symbol as he was confined. The distasteful aspect of his last years in jail was the manoeuvring by all parties over whether or not his confinement was in their interests.

The tragedy would be his failure to bear the burden of hope. Divisions within the black community, even as close to him as the militants in his wife's shadow, could make the weight beyond bearing by any ordinary mortal. Nelson Mandela has already proved himself above that.

- Herald editorial, February 13, 1990

Remarkable Transition

The Herald editorial on Nelson Mandela from May 4, 1994.
The Herald editorial on Nelson Mandela from May 4, 1994.

Barely four years ago, Nelson Mandela emerged from 27 years in jail, a political prisoner of apartheid. In a few days, the 75 year old holder of the Nobel Peace Prize will be sworn in as the first black president of a country with a 350 year tradition of white minority rule.

This remarkable transition, from prisoner to president, comes without an armed revolution, an army coup or a civil war, but through the ballot box. Millions of black South Africans, enfranchised for the first time, prove the monstrous lie of apartheid - that most Africans were uninterested in electing governments.

By the tens of thousands they patiently queued to make a mark for the dignity of free choice. Mr Mandela and the African National Congress are the first choice of about 62 per cent of voters.

The Zulu leader, Chief Buthelezi, will likely win about 6 per cent of the vote and a place in the cabinet of the transitional government.

And President de Klerk, the man whose courage equalled Mr Mandela's patience to make this extraordinary exchange of power possible, will earn a vice-presidency with about 24 per cent of the votes cast for his National Party.


"This is your victory too, you helped to end apartheid" Mr Mandela tells Mr de Klerk as he implores all races to "let bygones be bygones". Says Mr de Klerk: "Mr Mandela has walked a long road and now stands at the top of the hill. I hold out my hand in friendship and co-operation."

Such sentiments by the dual peace prize winners are not mere post-election platitudes. They are the main hope for the future of a country which is certain to be troubled by factional violence.

While the election has exposed the true level of support for the more radical political elements, the entrenchment of Zulu and National Party power bases in the provincial poll will ensure that tensions remain. And it will take all of Mr Mandela's considerable powers of reconciliation for his Government to satisfy both its supporters and white business capital.

Yet a country that was once among the more despised in the world must now be considered as among those with the most hope.

- Herald editorial, May 4, 1994