Cape Town - Rivonia trialists Andrew Mlangeni and Ahmed Kathrada are among the dignitaries who arrived at a ceremony to mark former President Nelson Mandela's release from prison on Thursday.
Twenty years ago, Madiba walked out of the Drakenstein Prison hand in hand with his then wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Among the thousands who gathered outside the correctional facility, formerly known as Victor Verster Prison in Paarl, were struggle veterans Mac Maharaj, Cyril Ramaphosa and Madikizela-Mandela herself.
Madiba himself was not present at the commemoration, although he is expected to attend President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation Address in Parliament in the evening.
Addressing the event attended by among others ANC, PAC and AZAPO leaders, Ramaphosa said when Mandela was released from prison, all South Africans became free.
Ramaphosa at the time of Madiba's release was a member of the national reception committee set up to receive ANC members who had been jailed by the apartheid government.
"On this day we were gathered here to take him into our embrace, ready to receive him. And when he came out, he said 'I am your servant, I am not your messiah and I am not your saviour'.
"We are very proud that we have had Nelson Mandela to lead us. He paved the way for a free nation, a united nation that upholds the principles of dignity and human rights. President Jacob Zuma has taken the baton from Nelson Mandela and continues to take the nation forward."
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was expected to address the crowds in the afternoon.
The day's activities at the prison where Mandela spent the last years of his 27-year-long sentence included a breakfast and a visit to Madiba House, the house in which Madiba spent his last days in prison.
At the end of the day would be symbolic walk to replicate Madiba's walk out of the prison.