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Nelson Mandela's long, long trip

February 11, 2010 |  4:53 pm

Mandela_feb2010

Today, 20 years after his release from prison on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela celebrated his freedom in South Africa. The anti-apartheid activist spent 27 years behind bars and five as president, and now, at 91, is a living symbol of the possibilities of peaceful democratic reform. When Mandela -- known colloquially as Madiba -- entered a joint session of South Africa's parliament today, the members burst into song. The Guardian reports:

[Speaking to the crowd, President Zuma said] "As we celebrate Madiba's release today, let us recommit ourselves to building a better future for all South Africans, black and white. Let us pursue the ideal for which Madiba has fought his entire life – the ideal of a democratic and free society, in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities."

The joint sitting of parliament was attended by the former South ­African president FW de Klerk, whose announcement 20 years ago that the African National Congress was unbanned heralded Mandela's release. ...

Cyril Ramaphosa, who led the reception committee 20 years ago, told supporters: "When comrade Nelson Mandela was released, as he walked out of these prison gates, we knew that his freedom meant that our freedom had also arrived. As he became free we also knew that we were now free."

Last fall, Mandela's papers became the subject of an intense worldwide bidding war at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux picked up American rights.

At the time, the book's agent, Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown, said, "What is so amazing is that he wrote virtually every day of his life and kept all his notes. He has notebooks from Robben Island which are absolutely packed with his handwriting. ... There's scraps of paper with his notes on leadership."

Nelson Mandela will turn 92 on July 18; his book, tentatively titled "Conversations with Myself," is expected to be released this year.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Nelson Mandela today in South Africa. Credit: Schalk Van Zuydam / AFP

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