The Presidential Years

Most of those who participated in the Government of National Unity considered that it succeeded in its critical purpose – to facilitate a peaceful transition to democracy that avoided sustained and costly conflict – and that the way it worked was in the interest of the country.

Mandela made a positive assessment in his State of the Nation Speech in February 1995, even in the context of some difficulties:

I am also pleased to report that whatever the teething problems, the concept and vision of a government of national unity has proved its correctness and viability. It has succeeded in its intentions of ensuring co-operation among our people as a whole, the development of a national consensus around a whole range of important matters, enabling important minority parties to have a real voice in the government of the country and contributing to peace, stability and confidence in the future of our country.

At the national level, we continue to work together in a non-confrontational atmosphere further to elaborate rules, conventions and procedures to ensure that the Government of National Unity functions effectively. And to ensure that it is able to address in a balanced way the fact of different parties with different policies and the tension between the democratic rights of the majority party and the effective participation of the minority parties. …

Happily, all the major parties have committed themselves to the perspectives contained in the commonly-evolved Reconstruction and Development Programme. This constitutes the firm basis for the continuing co-operation among the various parties inside and outside the Government of National Unity, without which such co-operation would become impossible.190

Later assessment by the ANC was more rounded. The withdrawal of the National Party was an occasion for ANC to reflect on progress towards democratisation and development and the challenges of making faster progress. The achievements of the GNU were recognised, in particular its contribution to saving the country from a bloody and costly conflict; its introduction of the liberation movement to government; and the basis it laid for policies for change in some key areas. It had bought a further shift of power that favoured change. But the adequacy of the inherited state structures and practices had to be reviewed and the pace of transformation had to increase.191