It was 20 years ago today that I held onto these newspapers, in the hope that they’d one day be worth something.


It was a Sunday, 20 years ago, when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison to set his jailers free, so it was only really on the next morning, Monday, February 12, 1990, that South Africans could go out and catch up with the news.

These were the days before cellphones and social media, when hard copy still ruled, and only blinkered fools would dream of getting their news from the SABC.

So on that score, at least, nothing much has changed. I held onto these papers, now yellowing and fishmoth-nibbled, in the hope that one day they would be worth something, and indeed today they are; they’re worth paging through and remembering.

So herewith, some memory-bites from the Big Day.

*Beeld and The Citizen, still steadfastly refusing to surrender to the New Rainbow spirit, both chose to lead with the violence that “greeted” Nelson Mandela’s release. Beeld went massive on a fuzzy pic of a woman fleeing in a Cape Town street, while a phalanx of cops cocked their rifles and looked out for “amokmakers” in the background. “Bloody Welcome”, screamed the headline, with a small inset picture of Mnr. Nelson Mandela to the side. Thanks Beeld, you’re bloody welcome too.

*The Citizen, using that same pic of a fist-in-the-air Mandela, reported on looters who had gone on the rampage on the Grand Parade, reminding its readers via the story below that Nelson Mandela had called on the African National Congress to continue its armed struggle, and on the international community to “isolate the apartheid regime”.

*The Weekly Mail, as the Mail & Guardian was known back then, carried a 20-page special picture edition to mark “the most extraordinary day in recent South African politics”. Back then, you could buy the Weekly Mail for R1.50. Extraordinary.

*The Citizen, in an editorial simply headlined “Mandela”, gritted its teeth and welcomed Mr Nelson Mandela’s release, postulating that there was “no purpose in keeping him in jail a day longer”, and hoping that we would be able to weather the challenges and pitfalls ahead by reaching agreement on a future “that will satisfy reasonable men on all sides”. As for reasonable women, well, presumably they’re just never satisfied.

*The selection of Valentine’s Day gifts available at Stax included a Philips Cosmetic Set, with Electric Shaver and cuticle pusher, for R199.95, and a Braun Food Processor with 5 blades and spatula, for R269.95.

*If you played the Wheel of Fortune at Sun City, you could win a Grand Prize of R50,000, with a minimum payout of R1,000. But more excitingly, you could watch a variety show starring special guest Pierre de Charmoy at the Superbowl.

*The Star reported on its front page that 3 bombs had exploded in the Cape overnight, including one at the Newlands cricket ground. No-one had been injured in the blasts. The bomb at Newlands, the Star helpfully pointed out, was a Soviet-made mini-limpet mine. Newspapers routinely provided details on the provenance of bombs and guns in their reports during this booming era of social and political change.

*The Star reported on its back page that a disillusioned Kepler Wessels had quit the Springbok cricket squad over the “Clive Rice affair”, and would thus not be available for the Newlands test against Mike Gatting’s English X1. I’m still not sure who Clive Rice was having an affair with, and whether or not it had anything to do with the bomb.

*On page 12 of Beeld, there was an ad for a brand-new Toyota Cressida for R26,999. (Twenty-six thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine Rand only.) Those were the days when Toyota could still assure us that “Everything Keeps Going Right”, although I’m pretty sure they’ve fixed that little steering problem by now.

*Just to put things in perspective, if you were a Metallurgical/Analytical Chemist, you could answer the ad in the Citizen’s job section, for a salary of R4,800 neg per month. Yes, those were the days when newspapers still had job sections.

*The headline on page 3 of the Star was “Thousands Sweep through City Centre”, with the story noting that neither a dose of teargas nor a sudden thunderstorm were enough to deter the crowd. Yes, those were the days when people still swept through city centres. These days, you’re lucky if you see one person sweeping.

*The Star reported that while international television viewers had been able to watch “the chaotic events in Cape Town” live on their screens, South Africans were kept informed by radio only. An SABC spokesman, Mr Carel van der Merwe, said: “We can’t be expected to broadcast the event all day. We gave a whole 40 minutes of coverage to Mr Mandela’s release from Victor Verster prison – and got a lot of complaints because nothing was happening during most of that time.”

*In a round-up of international reaction to Nelson Mandela’s release, the Star reported that the government of East Germany was considering re-establishing ties with South Africa. By the time they had made their minds up, the question was moot, as the Wall had fallen and there was no longer a government of East Germany.

*”She’s Out of Control”, a hilarious comedy starring Tony Danza of Who’s the Boss fame, and Catherine Hicks of Catherine Hicks fame, was showing at Sandton City. Otherwise, the Abyss looked good. Or how about Turner & Hooch? No, I think let’s go and see Oh Schucks, It’s Schuster. We need something to take our minds off all this politics.

*In a leader-page column headlined “Cometh the hour, cometh the man”, the Star opined: “Mr Mandela has at last been given the chance to go free. Now he must be given the chance to show whether he can lead.” Likewise, the Star must be given the chance to show whether it can write leaders.

*The JSE closed on 3 341 for the All Market Index, 2 172 for Golds, 2 242 for Metals, 1 875 for Financials, and 3 178 for Industrials. I have absolutely no idea what any of this means.

*On page 38 of the Citizen, in the Sports section, the headline reads: “Donald, Snell tear tourists apart”. It’s okay, they were talking about a bunch of English cricketers.

*At PC Warehouse, you could buy a brand-new TE 200 “Personal Microcomputer”, with 640k RAM, a 40meg hard drive, a 360k floppy drive, a 101 keyboard, and a colour/Hercules monitor, for only R2,995. Are they crazy? These things will never catch on.

*”Welcome  Back Nelson Mandela!” said Shell Oil in a double-page spread in the Weekly Mail. “The stars will shine brighter tonight.Tomorrow, a Brilliant Future beckons.” You know what? They were right.



6 comments on “It was 20 years ago today that I held onto these newspapers, in the hope that they’d one day be worth something.

  1. A great read that reminded me of that big day. All the things you mention seem as though they happened just yesterday. Then your PC Warehouse special gets mentioned and it seems like a lifetime ago!

  2. OMG i remember the images, the turmoil, the hope. today has brought it all back – a colleague and I are reminiscing about the day he was freed. so emotional. And thanks for a flip back to the 90s 🙂

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