"I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands" — Mandela's speech on leaving prison, 1990
35 years ago, today, Nelson Mandela was released from prison. His first speech was full of resolve and purpose. The long march to freedom was not yet over.
President F.W. de Klerk told Mandela a week before his release that he would soon be a free man, but he didn’t tell him the exact day. So it came as a surprise to Mandela when de Klerk arrived on the night of February 10, 1990, and said that the next day was to be the day.
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As Mandela recalled in Long Walk to Freedom:
"I deeply wanted to leave prison as soon as I could, but to do so on such short notice would not be wise. I thanked Mr. de Klerk, and then said that at the risk of appearing ungrateful I would prefer to have a week's notice in order that my family and my organization could be prepared." (as quoted in this NPR article)
President de Klerk consulted with advisers, and then denied the request. So Mandela fell into line and agreed that the next day would be the day. He and his jailer shared a whiskey.
His speech on the 11th of February is one of my all time favourites, because it’s got the hard edge of a revolutionary with his eyes still fixed on the ultimate goal. Mandela is rightly remembered as a healer, because many of his speeches in the 1990s demonstrated an extraordinary capacity for forgiveness — especially his presidential inauguration speech — but this one is full of resolve and purpose.
Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans.
I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.
I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.
The full transcript is on Speakola
Then there is a section that thanks and pays tribute to important parties, supporters, the international community. There are a dozen or so paragraphs that being, ‘I salute’.