JOHANNESBURG – Nelson Mandela insisted that he wanted to walk out of prison, when then President F. W. de Klerk told him he would finally be freed 25 years ago.
On Wednesday, South Africans marked the anniversary of the release of Mandela who four years later became the country's first black president.
Mandela was released on Feb. 11, 1990, after 27 years in prison. Holding the hand of his then wife, Winnie, the 71-year-old was met with crowds of euphoric South Africans. Mandela raised his clenched first, signaling his determination to end apartheid, the system of racial discrimination. It was a turning point in South Africa's history.
A few hours later Mandela delivered his first speech since he was sentenced to life in prison in 1964 after being convicted of treason for opposing white minority rule. Mandela emphasized the need for peaceful negotiation and consensus to rebuild South Africa.
"The need to unite the people of our country is as important a task now as it always has been," Mandela told thousands outside the Cape Town City Hall.
The next day, Mandela flew to Johannesburg, where tens of thousands filled a soccer stadium, welcoming him home to Soweto, a blacks-only township where he once lived.
South Africans today are still inspired by Mandela's vision of a non-racial, democratic and prosperous society, current President Jacob Zuma said in a statement Wednesday.
"This day ... marked a giant leap in the long walk to freedom, not just for Nelson Mandela but also for the people of South Africa," Zuma said.
Mandela, who died in 2013 at the age of 95, would have been proud of South Africa's achievements, but would have been disturbed by the continued instances of racism, said the last apartheid president F.W. de Klerk, marking the anniversary.