Nelson Mandela walked through a prison gate to freedom Sunday, setting off joyous celebrations and violent clashes as blacks nationwide welcomed their leader back from 27 years in jail.
“Comrades and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all,” Mandela told tens of thousands of cheering supporters who thronged outside City Hall at twilight, many getting their first look at the 71-year-old African National Congress leader.
But he emphatically reaffirmed his commitment to the ANC’s guerrilla campaign and called for increased pressure to end white-minority domination - the same cause that resulted in his life sentence on charges of plotting against the government. He also reiterated that talks with the government cannot begin until it lifts the state of emergency.
“I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you the people,” said the white-haired Mandela, who looked much more an elder statesman in his suit and tie than a guerrilla leader.
“Today, the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our decisive mass action,” he said in a rousing half-hour speech frequently interrupted by roars of “Viva 3/8”
Violence broke out about the same time Mandela’s motorcade arrived in Cape Town from Victor Verster prison and delayed his speech. Police said a black looter was shot to death by officers, and first aid workers said more than 100 people were injured when riot police fired shotguns after groups of black youths smashed shop windows in the city center.
Some youths retaliated by hurling bottles at the officers. Hundreds of terrified people waiting to hear Mandela ran for cover as police fired blasts of shotgun pellets.
Clashes between police and celebrating blacks were reported in at least two other areas, including the tribal homeland of Ciskei, where hospital officials said police shot three people to death and wounded 20.
In Natal Province, where ANC supporters have been feuding with a more conservative black group, police said 12 blacks were killed in factional fighting Sunday. It was a harsh reminder of the bitter feuds involving black factions who disagree on the best way to fight for equality.
Elsewhere, hundreds of thousands of blacks danced and jogged through the streets of big cities and impoverished townships, rejoicing at Mandela’s freedom.
“Very good news, very good news,” President Bush said after Mandela’s release. Bush said he telephoned Mandela, told him all Americans “were rejoicing at his release” and invited him to the White House.