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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

We repeat: Release our political prisoners NOW!

When the ANC-led alliance first began the process leading to negotiations, we set various preconditions. These were obstacles whose removal we said was essential to secure a climate conducive to a peaceful transition to democracy. Amongst these was the unconditional release of political prisoners.

In the course of 1991, following the Inkathagate scandal, the ANC-led alliance moved more forcefully.on to the offensive. We began to define the present government itself as the main obstacle to transition. In line with this, our immediate demand began to be for the establishment of an Interim Government.

However tactically correct this shift might have been, it created a degree of ambiguity over the status of the other obstacles to progress. Was the resolution of the political prisoner question now something that could wait for the establishment of an Interim Government?

We have never adequately clarified the relationship between the struggle for interim arrangements and agitation for the immediate release of political prisoners and for the immediate removal of other obstacles.

The effect of all of this has been that the heat has been taken off the regime on the political prisoner issue. Meanwhile over 400 politicals continue to he held hostage.

When the issue is raised in CODESA, the regime responds by saying that it is a bilateral issue between itself and the ANC. Inother words, it is not a matter for discussion in the multi-party context of CODESA. Yet there has been little progress in these bilaterals. In fact, there seems to be retrogression, with the regime seeking to link the release of political prisoners with concessions from our side on MK.

We in the SACP do not accept that the question of political prisoners is only a bilateral issue between the ANC and the regime. Indeed, some of the leading MK prisoners - Mthetheli Mncube, Mzondeleli Nondula and Robert McBride - are also SACP members.

The regime brazenly and cynically releases common criminal murderers, like the infamous KwaZulu policeman Shange. But it continues to flout the agreements through which Mncube, Nondula, McBride and other indisputable political prisoners should have been released many months ago.

We need to marshall mass power once more, to open the jails as we did in releasing comrades Mandela and others.

We repeat: Release our political prisoners now!

But this time we are not speaking, in the first place, to the regime. We are speaking to ourselves.

We are reminding ourselves of our solemn duty, and of our mass capacity to bring about the release of our comrades.

No more delays. No more legal technicalities. No more games.


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