Mandela’s move to Victor Verster Prison

On 7 December 1988 Nelson Mandela was transferred to Victor Verster Prison in Paarl. He was there for 14 months in a cottage until he was released from prison on 11 February 1990. 

Struggle icon and former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was quietly transported from a clinic outside Cape Town to a house on a prison farm in Paarl. He was placed at the prison because it was close to doctors and hospitals as it was during this time that he was recovering from Tuberculosis. The house where Mandela stayed was previously used for house officers but was refurbished once the struggle icon moved in.

Mandela’s transfer was the first step in what appears to be a Government strategy to move him to less austere accommodations rather than free him outright. The government, who charged Mandela with a life sentence on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government and sabotage, vetoed suggestions to free him completely. They believed that by freeing him that it would result in a wave of demonstrations on his behalf and would inevitably lead to possible violence.

Reports by the authorities on Mandela’s move to Victor Verster Prison prompted repeated rumors that he would be released soon. The government who initiated the transfer hoped that this move would be taken as a conciliatory gesture, which in turn, increased the rumours that Mandela would be released soon. Although this move did allow certain privileges for the struggle hero, Winnie Mandela refused the unlimited visiting hours the Government had offered her. She was quoted as saying she would adhere to the 40-minute period she has been allowed, because she still considered him a political prisoner.

As seen in the New York Times article dated 8 December 1988, Mandela’s lawyer at the time, Mr. Ismail Ayob reported that:

”I spoke with Mrs. Mandela,” Mr. Ayoub reported. ”Her reply was that Mr. Mandela still remained a prisoner of the South African Government and that the concession made today to him personally is clearly a response to the domestic and international pressure for his release.”

Although this move to Victor Verster Prison helped to facilitate a transition to freedom, Mandela was only released after living at the prison for 14 months.