As I interviewed her, a flickering black-and-white television brought his ex-wife astonishing news. Nelson Mandela was to be set free.

12 February 2020 By Paul Martin

During that trip in early 1990 I became the only journalist to meet up with and film Nelson Mandela’s first wife.

In a remote country village I found Evelyn Mandela, in a small grocery store that she owned.  She was selling a customer some washing powder.

Back at her modest home, where she held evangelical prayer meetings, she explained to me that she considered Nelson as “my enemy”. She showed me a scar on her neck and back which she said was inflicted during the acrimonious last year of their doomed marriage. 

Yet when I took a series of photos, she chose to hold a large portrait of her ex-husband.

On her flickering black-and-white television President FW De Klerk was making his opening speech in Parliament. It turned out to presage a stunning reversal of many decades of apartheid.

“We will unban the African National Congress,” we heard him declare.  Then De Klerk said something even more astonishing.

“And we will release Nelson Mandela.”

Evelyn Mandela reacted with joy. Her reasoning was quite telling. “Because now my children will get fair treatment.”

Within two months her ex-husband was indeed set free.

What an amazing coincidence that I was with Evelyn just as the news of his impending freedom was announced.

Sometimes in journalism you just get lucky. And, in this case, I might add, so did South Africa – fortunate to have released a monumental heroic peacemaker like Nelson Mandela.

Here’s report I did for the Independent newspaper in Britain, twenty-five years after that momentous event.

PAUL MARTIN The anniversary of Mandela’s release highlights the need to compromise

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