U.N. General Assembly President Joseph Garba called "too little, too late" South Africa's promise to release anti-apartheid leader Walter Sisulu from prison and also demanded Nelson Mandela's freedom.
Garba, president of the 44th session of the 159-nation assembly, said South Africa must unconditionally free Mandela, leader of the African National Congress, who has been jailed since 1964 for trying to topple the white-minority Pretoria government.Sisulu, 77, former secretary-general of the ANC, is one of eight of South Africa's most prominent prisoners South African President Frederik de Klerk promised Tuesday to release. Mandela was not included among the eight, as demanded by the ANC.
"While (Sisulu's promised release) is welcome, it is too little, too late," Garba said.
In Pretoria, Prison Services spokesman Maj. "Div" de Villiers confirmed the release of the first of the eight, the ailing 80-year-old Oscar Mpetha, but said none of the others would be freed Wednesday.
It was not known when the other seven prisoners, including Sisulu, would be freed under release orders announced Tuesday.
The release of the eight prisoners will have no "real meaning," Garba said, until Mandela and other political prisoners are released.
But the U.N. president said the Pretoria government "shows courage by initiating dialogue with the genuine leaders of all the people of South Africa."
U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar said in a separate statement marking Oct. 11 as the U.N. Day of Solidarity with South African Political Prisoners that he viewed De Klerk's action as an "encouraging trend."
But he too called for the release of Mandela and other political prisoners, saying their continued imprisonment deprived black South Africans of the "counsel and leadership ... at a time when their participation in the political life of the country is so greatly needed."