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From our archives: Nelson Mandela is freed

11 February 2020

Nelson Mandela was released from prison 30 years ago today. This story was published on the front page of the Church Times on 16 February 1990


Nelson and Winnie Mandela arrive in Stockholm, Sweden, on 12 March 1990, one month after he was released

Nelson and Winnie Mandela arrive in Stockholm, Sweden, on 12 March 1990, one month after he was released

Ease sanctions at ‘the right time’

by Betty Saunders

THE Archbishop of Canterbury looked forward this week to the dawn of a new era in South Africa after the release of Nelson Mandela.

Dr Runcie, just back from Bangladesh, hailed the release of the black leader as “wonderfully happy news”, and said: “President de Klerk has kindled the hope that a new era of justice and peace may now be dawning in South Africa. It is a momentous prospect for which so many have laboured for so long. Many Christians in South Africa have been fearless in the struggle for human dignity and freedom. I share their eager expectation that these goals may now be in sight.”

Speaking on Wednesday morning on the subject of sanctions, the Archbishop argued that the recent events in South Africa were nevertheless just “prerequisites to dialogue”.

“The hardest tests lie ahead. When those tests, such as the legislation that enforces apartheid, are tackled, the Government of South Africa will need encouragement so that they can show their electorate that the dismantling of the system is good for all the people of South Africa. That, after all, is the whole point of the existing sanctions.

“We should applaud President de Klerk for taking the essential first steps and be ready for the right time to respond with the easing of sanctions. I pray that time may not be long delayed.”

The British Council of Churches, which was sponsoring a service of celebration at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London last night, marked “this joyful occasion” by urging the British Government to step up economic and diplomatic pressures on the South African Government. “The BCC believes that the circumstances that have brought about Nelson Mandela’s release have been secured only by a combination of internal and external pressures on the Pretoria regime,” said a statement issued last weekend. And the BCC said that the freedom of many other political prisoners, and that of the whole of South African society from “the jail of apartheid”, required the intensification of pressures from outside.

And last Friday, while the release of Mr Mandela was still awaited, the Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Revd Simon Barrington-Ward, chairman of the Southern Africa Coalition, sent a protest to the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd. The Bishop recalled the assurance given by Mr Hurd to a delegation from the Coalition last month, that existing pressures and sanctions would be maintained until “profound and irreversible change” had occurred. Events so far did not provide evidence of that change.

Apart from the denial of the assurance received, the Bishop’s letter continued, the Prime Minister’s immediate encouragement of the renewing of links with South Africa was “a quite astonishing denial of commitment entered into with European and Commonwealth partners”.

Pressure for sanctions will continue when a week of action for South Africa begins on Wednesday. The highspot will be a mass lobby in Westminster, to be staged by the Coalition on 27 February, Shrove Tuesday. The main speaker will be the Revd Frank Chikane, General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches. 

The Church Times Digital Archive is available free to all subscribers.

Read more from the archive:
Mandela’s priest
How one man changed the world for good

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