The Presidential Years

If the formation of the Government of National Unity had called on the President to make some difficult decisions, there was more to come. The first years of democratic government brought a series of moments that required Mandela to make and manage changes in the executive: reconfiguring its structure; shuffling ministers; managing succession; defusing disagreements; holding policy lines; and dismissals.

There were also many structures that had to be set up to undertake the task of transformation and to promote and protect democracy. Given the nature of the society from which the country was moving, there wasn’t always consensus on who should be appointed to such structures and who should lead them. All kind of balances had to be struck – to demonstrate change, but also assuage the apprehensions of whites.

In the broader scheme of things, handling such matters is par for the course for any head of government. However, what made some of these changes unique and the more difficult to handle was a combination of factors: the fact of a delicate political transition; the multi-party Government of National Unity; the traditions of a liberation movement where comradeship, loyalty and a consultative approach were valued above everything else; and the circumstances that led to the cabinet changes, some of which were beyond his control.

These moments required varying combinations of presidential prerogative and political leadership as well as complex emotions. Their legacies ranged from mild turbulence to festering political grievance.