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27 for Freedom Race – celebrating 20 years since the release of Nelson Mandela

Its been 20 years since Nelson Mandela finally walked free – out the doors of the Victor Verster Prison near Paarl in the Cape Winelands. The prison is commonly known as the Drakenstein Prison and many people do not know that this where Mandela spent the last 2 years of his imprisonment, under house arrest, following his move from Robben Island in 1982 and then his subsequent 6 years at Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town.

After 26 years in captivity, Nelson Mandela did not want to be set free straight away. Two days before his release, the world’s most famous political prisoner was taken to see President FW de Klerk in his Cape Town office. The president got a surprise.

“I told him he would be flown to Johannesburg and released there on 11 February 1990. Mr Mandela’s reaction was not at all as I had expected,” said De Klerk. “He said: ‘No, it is too soon, we need more time for preparation.’ That is when I realised that long hours of negotiation lay ahead with this man.”

Just after 4pm on the date appointed by De Klerk, Mandela, then 71, walked free, holding the hand of his wife, Winnie. The prisoner had lost his argument for a later release date but had persuaded De Klerk to allow him to leave directly from Victor Verster prison, in Paarl. Mandela held up his fist in an ANC salute. In an instant he switched from being a symbol of the oppressed to the global symbol of courage and freedom that he remains today.

Mandela’s release did not signal the end of apartheid. In fact, the white-ruled pariah state was entering the most dangerous chapter in its history since the introduction of racial separateness in 1948.

Four hours after leaving prison, Mandela arrived in Cape Town to address thousands of people gathered outside city hall. The impatient crowd had clashed with police and bullets had been fired. But Mandela did not bring a message of appeasement. “The factors which necessitated armed struggle still exist today,” he told the cheering onlookers.

Mandela called on the international community to maintain its sanctions. “I have carried the idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. I hope to live to see the achievement of that ideal. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die,” he shouted.

ON Saturday, 13 February the “27 For Freedom” Race will take place at Drakenstein Correctional Services. Drakenstein Correctional Services, formerly known as the Victor Verster Prison before it was renamed in 1998, is the historic place where Madiba took his first steps to freedom after many years of incarceration.

The 27 For Freedom Race is an inaugural race which forms part of the festivities of the release of Madiba 20 years ago.

Athletes participating in this race will be taken along the same route that was taken by Madiba as he left prison, beacon by beacon, from the Madiba House, along the Long Walk to Freedom route, all the way to the Madiba Statue at the entrance of the prison.

Every participant will receive a medal which will be a collector’s piece. The first 500 entrants in the 27 For Freedom Race will also receive a 27 For Freedom branded T-shirt. Two shorter races will form part of the 27 For Freedom Race inaugural race to cater for the needs of the entire athletics family. Apart from the main 27 km run, athletes can also choose between a 10 km course or a 5 km, which they can either run of walk. Wheelchair athletes are also invited to participate in the 10 race.

The closing date for entries is 7 February. For more information, call 021 883 2413 or visit

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