The Presidential Years

The problem of crime fed into a larger concern. When the need turned from liberation to rebuilding, tensions became evident between the contemporary social fabric and the values needed for a national effort of reconstruction and development. Four years after being dismayed on his return to Soweto by the nexus of social deprivation and crime, Mandela addressed a Moral Summit called by religious organisations in response to his urging that they play an active part in reconstruction and development

It is not necessary to rehearse the ways in which the inhuman system under which we lived so long undermined and eroded respect for one another and for life itself. That apartheid was a sin and encouraged sinful behaviour is no longer a matter of debate.

The symptoms of our spiritual malaise are only too familiar. They include the extent of corruption in both public and private sector, where office and positions of responsibility are treated as opportunities for self-enrichment; the corruption that occurs within our justice system; violence in interpersonal relations and families, in particular the shameful record of abuse of women and children; and the extent of evasion of tax and refusal to pay for services used. . .

It was to be expected, given our past, that we would encounter problems of this kind, but not, I believe, how great they would be. Nor that it would be as difficult to mobilise our society in a united effort to eradicate the problems.557

Both the past and the present contributed to the difficulties. From the past came poverty, mistrust and antagonism, and the consequences of perverting law as an instrument of oppression. The legacy was ‘a society ... in which the dividing line between the legal and the illegal had become blurred,’ and in which ‘non-payment for services ... was directed against illegitimate local government structures.’

Unease about the country’s moral fibre drew on all that and on developments which spoke of pursuit of narrow, selfish or short-term interest at the expense of the common good and a shared effort to build a common future. Mandela was concerned both about the potential of power to corrupt former freedom fighters and the reluctance of those who had benefitted from the past to let go of their privilege and put their advantages into the effort to build the future.

Developments soon brought home that deeply rooted obstacles instilled over generations had to be overcome, and that the euphoria in the dawn of democracy would not sustain the work of transforming the country. In response, Mandela called for a change in attitude and values: for moral regeneration; for a new patriotism; for an ‘RDP of the soul’, urging consideration for the common good rather than narrow sectoral or self-interest; for pursuit of long-term benefits for all rather than short-term gains for some.

Taken aback by strikes by public sector workers in the first months of government, Mandela, in unscripted remarks, raised the issue at COSATU conference in September.

…you must embark on strikes when negotiations fail [APPLAUSE]. But I sincerely hope that you are now going to look at the situation from the point of view that you are in power. It’s not just Tito Mboweni or Mac Maharaj who are in power, you are in power. [CHEERS] There are problems, there are problems that you have to address. There are at least five million people who are unemployed, who don’t know where to get a meal during the day; who don’t know where to sleep; who don’t know how to clothe their children; how to pay for their school fees. That is your problem to solve. In striking, don’t look at your own personal interests, or just the interests of your union, you must take a broad approach. You must create conditions where business can actually expand and absorb those five million people who are unemployed. It is your task to do so. You must also know that although we are entitled to fight for better living conditions we must pace ourselves: the higher the cost of production, the more business want to retrench people and increase the army of the unemployed – bear that in mind.558

When business, having benefited from the past, proved reluctant to rise to the occasion by embracing and contributing to the future, Mandela set the values of the New Patriotism against the withholding of investment that would drive growth to the benefit of all.

All South Africans, are called upon to become builders and healers. But, for all the joy and excitement of creation, to build and to heal are difficult undertakings.

We can neither heal nor build, if such healing and building are perceived as a one-way process, with the victims of past injustices forgiving and the beneficiaries merely content in gratitude. Together we must set out to correct the defects of the past.

We can neither heal nor build, if on the one hand, the rich in our society see the poor as hordes of irritants; or if, on the other hand, the poor sit back, expecting charity. All of us must take responsibility for the upliftment of our conditions, prepared to give our best to the benefit of all.

We can neither heal nor build, if we continue to have people in positions of influence and power who, at best, pay lip service to affirmative action, black empowerment and the emancipation of women, or who are, in reality, opposed to these goals; if we have people who continue with blind arrogance to practice racism in the work-places and schools.... We must work together to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth, opportunity and power in our society.

We cannot build or heal our nation, if - in both the private and public sectors, in the schools and universities, in the hospitals and on the land, in dealing with crime and social dislocation - if we continue with business as usual, wallowing in notions of the past. Everywhere and in everything we do, what is now required is boldness in thinking, firmness in resolve and consistency in action.

… all of us must take the national project of accelerated and fundamental transformation of our country very seriously indeed. The achievement of the objectives of equity, non-racialism and non-sexism constitute the very essence of the new society we seek to build.

In the history of nations, generations have made their mark through their acumen to appreciate critical turning points, and with determination and creativity, to seize the moment. South Africa is well on its way to a new and better life. This we will achieve only if we shed the temptation to proceed casually along the road; only if we fully take the opportunities that beckon.

We must unite in a New Patriotism to achieve the goal of creating a new society. 559

Returning to the theme two years later he asserted that it was also a matter of respect for one another and for the law.

We need a campaign of moral regeneration. As we reconstruct the material conditions of our existence, we must also change our way of thinking, to respect the value and result of honest work, and to treat each law of the country as our own.560

While calling for a change in attitude and urging others to combat corruption, government itself needed to act. The commission headed by retired judge, Willem Heath, that had been set up to investigate corruption in the former Ciskei bantustan, became a Special Investigations Unit with a national mandate, and headed by the same judge until a Constitutional Court judgment required his replacement by a public official. The unit was part of a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy adopted by Cabinet that combined mobilisation of a social partnership against corruption, including two-anti corruption summits.