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Madiba’s release from prison: What happened behind the scenes

Today marks three decades since Madiba was released from prison after serving 27 years behind bars.

FILE: A picture taken on February 11, 1990 shows Nelson Mandela (C) and his then-wife Winnie raising their fists and saluting cheering crowd upon Mandela's release from the Victor Verster prison near Paarl. Picture: AFP

CAPE TOWN - It may have seemed as if it went like clockwork but the late Nelson Mandela’s release from prison was chaotic behind the scenes.

Today marks three decades since Madiba was released from prison after serving 27 years behind bars.

An event took place at the Drakenstein Prison, where Mandela served the last 14 months of his incarceration.

Former Cabinet minister Valli Moosa was part of Madiba’s reception committee which planned the fanfare around his release.

Moosa said government at the time wanted his release to be a quiet affair. That was never going to be the case, though.

He said the powers that be at the time intended to fly him to Johannesburg and take him to his home.
His release would then have been made public in the newspapers.

But Madiba said no.

“He said when they release him, he wanted to walk out on his own and not have them take him anywhere. He said that he wanted to address the people of Cape Town to thank them for hosting him for many years.”

Former National Prosecuting Authority head Bulelani Ngcuka was also part of the committee. He said the logistics around the event were tricky.

“We were not prepared for his release. The guy who was in charge of security at Robben Island and he knew nothing about controlling crowds. There was another UDF member who had to drive but didn’t know how to drive. There was so much.”

But it all came together, somehow, making for one of the most important events of South Africa's history.

WATCH: Ramaphosa's tribute to Madiba on 30th anniversary of prison release