On February 11, 1990, after over 25 years of imprisonment, Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison, roughly 30 miles east of Cape Town, and he immediately went to the front steps of its City Hall for his first speech as a free man for a crowd of 50,000 people and a worldwide television audience.  Here are photographs of the crowd and of Mandela giving his speech followed by extracts of what he said that day.
“Amandla! Amandla! i-Afrika, mayibuye! [Power! Power! Africa it is ours!] My 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.”
“On this day of my release, I extend my sincere and warmest gratitude to the millions of my compatriots and those in every corner of the globe who have campaigned tirelessly for my release.”
“I extend special greetings to the people of Cape Town, the city which has been my home for three decades. Your mass marches and other forms of struggle have served as a constant source of strength to all political prisoners.” He then extended salutations to the African National Congress and its leaders and allies and expressed “my deep appreciation for the strength given to me during my long and lonely years in prison by my beloved wife and family.”
Need for Armed Struggle
“Today the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our own decisive mass actions in order to build peace and security. The mass campaigns of defiance and other actions of our organizations and people can only culminate in the establishment of democracy.”
“The apartheid destruction on our subcontinent is incalculable. The fabric of family life of millions of my people has been shattered. Millions are homeless and unemployed.”
“Our economy lies in ruins and our people are embroiled in political strife. Our resort to the armed struggle in 1960 with the formation of the military wing of the A.N.C., Umkonto We Sizwe, was a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid.”
“The factors which necessitated the armed struggle still exist today. We have no option but to continue. We express the hope that a climate conducive to a negotiated settlement would be created soon so that there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle.”
“I am a loyal and disciplined member of the African National Congress. I am, therefore, in full agreement with all of its objectives, strategies and tactics.”
“The need to unite the people of our country is as important a task now as it always has been. No individual leader is able to take all these enormous tasks on his own. It is our task as leaders to place our views before our organization and to allow the democratic structures to decide on the way forward.”
“On the question of democratic practice, I feel duty bound to make the point that a leader of the movement is a person who has been democratically elected at a national conference. This is a principle which must be upheld without any exceptions.”
“Today, I wish to report to you that my talks with the Government have been aimed at normalizing the political situation in the country. We have not as yet begun discussing the basic demands of the struggle.” (Emphasis added.)
“I wish to stress that I myself had at no time entered into negotiations about the future of our country, except to insist on a meeting between the A.N.C. and the Government.”
“Mr. de Klerk has gone further than any other Nationalist president in taking real steps to normalize the situation. However, there are further steps as outlined in the Harare Declaration that have to be met before negotiations on the basic demands of our people can begin.”
“I reiterate our call for inter alia the immediate ending of the state of emergency and the freeing of all, and not only some, political prisoners.”
A Decisive Moment
“Only such a normalized situation which allows for free political activity can allow us to consult our people in order to obtain a mandate. The people need to be consulted on who will negotiate and on the content of such negotiations.”
“Negotiations cannot take place above the heads or behind the backs of our people. It is our belief that the future of our country can only be determined by a body which is democratically elected on a non-racial basis.”
“Negotiations on the dismantling of apartheid will have to address the overwhelming demand of our people for a democratic non-racial and unitary South Africa. There must be an end to white monopoly on political power.”
“And a fundamental restructuring of our political and economic systems to insure that the inequalities of apartheid are addressed and our society thoroughly democratized.”
“It must be added that Mr. de Klerk himself is a man of integrity who is acutely aware of the dangers of a public figure not honoring his undertakings. But as an organization, we base our policy and strategy on the harsh reality we are faced with, and this reality is that we are still suffering under the policies of the Nationalist Government.”
“Our struggle has reached a decisive moment. We call on our people to seize this moment so that the process toward democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait. Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts.”
“To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive. The sight of freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts. It is only through disciplined mass action that our victory can “be assured.
“We call on our white compatriots to join us in the shaping of a new South Africa. The freedom movement is the political home for you, too. We call on the international community to continue the campaign to isolate the apartheid regime.”
“To lift sanctions now would be to run the risk of aborting the process toward the complete eradication of apartheid. Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way.”
“Universal suffrage on a common voters roll in a united democratic and non-racial South Africa is the only way to peace and racial harmony.”
“In conclusion, I wish to go to my own words during my trial in 1964. They are as true today as they were then: ‘I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.’”
“It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. My friends, I have no words of eloquence to offer today except to say that the remaining days of my life are in your hands. I hope you will disperse with discipline. And not a single one of you should do anything which will make other people to say that we can’t control our own people.”
Now there is a statue of Mandela on the same steps of City Hall where he gave this speech as shown in this photograph.
 Burns, SOUTH AFRICA’s NEW ERA; on Mandela’s Walk, Hope and Violence, N.Y. Times (Feb. 12, 1990); SOUTH AFRICA’S NEW ERA; Transcript of Mandela’s Speech at Cape Town City Hall: ‘Africa, It Is Ours!,’ N.Y. Times (Feb. 12, 1990).