The Presidential Years

Mandela had seen the task of nation-building and reconciliation as intertwined with reconstruction and development. In his mind, the one set of tasks was a prerequisite for the other. On the one hand, continuing social change was necessary to eliminate the very socio-economic conditions that had generated conflict in the first place. On the other hand comprehensive social transformation required a peaceful environment. He therefore pursued the latter with as much vigour as the former, and in a few instances, even his senior colleagues believed he was going overboard.

With hindsight you might say that. But reconciliation had to do with: let’s protect the democratic gains from this potential threat, and therefore this became a preoccupation not so much because he was a worshipper of reconciliation in itself but it served a purpose in terms of protecting what we had gained.505

Thabo Mbeki

This was an imperative Mandela had long foreseen. It informed comment he made at a National Working Committee bosberaad in February 1992, discussing a strategy document presented by Joe Slovo.

The threat from the far right … is dealt with very well in analysing the present position. What we have not done is to discuss this threat in terms of what they are likely to do when a democratic government has been installed. This is very important. Not only must we win democracy, but we must be able to defend it. Formulating strategy to do this is essential.506

He persisted, in the belief that his mission was to steer South Africa’s transition along, while at the same time initiating programmes that would build a better life for all, especially those previously marginalised. In other words, the ‘reconciler’ was not one-track minded.

Critically, his were also the actions of a consummate politician and a master-tactician: to reduce the capacity of the enemies of change to disrupt change; sometimes to string them along – but not cynically - so that the ultimate objective of a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society could be attained, in his lifetime at least in formal precepts and with the seeds of the future having been sown.