The Presidential Years

When people had to be dismissed, or asked to resign, from Cabinet or leadership positions in government, powerful and often conflicting emotions came into play. Pain at having to take action against comrades; disappointment when trust in the integrity of others was not fulfilled; anger at being taking advantage of; but also readiness to renew trust – such were the feelings which in different ways and in different circumstances, Mandela evinced when he judged it necessary to act – or when he hesitated to do so.

Such occasions are mainly dealt with elsewhere. They include breakdown in trust between the executive and heads of arms of the security forces: between the president and General Meiring, head of the defence force; and between the minister of safety and security and General van der Merwe, head of the police. There were also occasions on which he hesitated to act or did not act as observers expected or demanded.

Those who worked closely with him give insight into the complexities. Ahmed Kathrada speaks of Mandela’s loyalty as ‘his strength and his weakness. When he is loyal to someone, he’s not going to hear something contrary, his loyalty goes beyond, but then when you crossed him it goes the other way.’241For Sydney Mufamadi, ‘a key facet of his was that he did not want to be taken for granted or taken advantage of when he put trust in the integrity of others.’242 Jakes Gerwel describes how Mandela’s view of human nature informed his actions.

He had this genuine belief – and he often argued with me about the provability of it – that human beings are essentially ‘good-doing beings, beings who do good’. We had an incident in government where somebody very senior did something very silly and stupid, and had to step down from that position. But, at the same time, he had played a crucial role in ensuring the stability of the transition period. In the end we had to part ways with him, and he stepped down.

Madiba said to him, ‘If there is anything that I can do for you, please don’t hesitate to ask me’. A day or two later he came back and asked for an appointment to another international position. Everyone we consulted said, ‘No, you can’t appoint him’, and Mandela was actually quite upset about this, and asked, ‘Why don’t they trust the guy?’ I replied, ‘actually, because he did something quite untrustworthy’. And he said to me, ‘That was an exception’, and he made the argument that if you are able to follow human beings from the moment they get up in the morning until they retire at night, you would find that most of them do the proper things most of the time, and that the erring is an aberration. And he really acted on that. He is not naıve, but he had a faith in the goodness of human beings, no matter how they disagreed politically or otherwise, and he always acted in line with that belief. Of course, this attitude also helped to lay the basis for the furthering of social cohesion and national unity in the country.243

Jakes Gerwel