On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster Prison after spending 27 years in detention under the South African apartheid regime—a pivotal moment in the history of the nation and the world. This marked the beginning of the end for a racist oppression embedded in culture and codified in law, with Mandela embodying the spirit of the peace, democracy, and freedom that would take its place. In 1994, South Africa held its first fully representative democratic national election—now open to all races—which would see Mandela elected as the country's first black president.
While on the campaign trail on February 2, 1994, Mandela returned to Victor Verster Prison to reenact his liberation, lighting a 'flame of freedom'—using the torch here offered—to honor those who suffered to end apartheid. Mandela gathered with others who had been held as political prisoners and he was presented this torch at the prison gate, then lighted the symbolic flame, freed some doves, and placed a wreath on the razor wire hedge erected at the prison entrance. He then rode past adoring crowds to a rally at the soccer stadium in Paarl.
Mandela's torch, which was actually fabricated for the event inside the Victor Verster Prison, measures 21″ long and is constructed of an iron-type metal, with the flame holder punctured in a rudimentary pattern to allow the flame to breath; the charred remnants of the wick remain inside. The handle is a wrapped with a hard black woven grip. This was the only torch used by Mandela on this historic occasion, and it is accompanied by an abundance of photographic and video evidence as well as letters of provenance. Following the final rally held in Retreat Cape Province, Mandela presented the torch to a white worker who had assembled the platforms and staging for the rally, James David Sansom, as a token of appreciation and unity. A truly fantastic artifact of the utmost historical significance.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.