Today in history... Nelson Mandela is freed from prison

On this day in 1990, at around 12.15pm (GMT), Nelson Mandela, aged 71, walked free from the South African jails in which he'd spent a third of his life.

Accompanied by his wife Winnie, Mandela was greeted by over half a million people in Cape Town, eager to hear their leader's first public address in over a quarter of a century.

In his landmark speech, a composed Mandela spoke of the necessities of continuing struggles in his homeland, and of continuing sanctions against the apartheid regime.

Today, Mandela's release is regarded as a pivotal moment in global civil rights - a moment that would be consolidated four years later, at Mandela's inauguration as President of South Africa.

Next month, a crucial piece of memorabilia from that day is set to auction at Bonhams: a flag signed by South Africa's three most recent presidents, Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and F W de Klerk.

The South African flag signed by South Africa's three most recent presidents
- Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and F W de Klerk

The flag, which was flown from a helicopter at the historic presidential inauguration on May 10, 1994, will feature in Bonhams' South African Art Sale in London on March 24.

But, on February 11, 1990, that moment was four years away. Mandela was released to mixed reactions from South Africa's population, and negotiations with the current white Government continued.

Naturally, memorabilia items attached to iconic figures of past political or social change - from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln - inspire much devotion in collectors.

Among items presently on the market is an important piece of memorabilia attached to a human rights icon from another divided nation: Martin Luther King Jr.

A copy of King's seminal book, Stride Toward Freedom, 1961, signed and inscribed "To Dick Van Aernam, With Best Wishes, Martin Luther King, Jr," is available to collectors priced £6,000.


Image: Bonhams

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