The Presidential Years

Assessing progress after almost a year in government, Mandela took comfort from the achievement of peace, and a changed mood within society as a whole: from tension and confrontation, to reconciliation and unity of purpose. The main reason behind this, it was observed I notes he used to open the NEC meeting in February 1995, ‘were our correct strategies in dealing with the right-wing. Thus the main source of counter-revolution was demobilised.’571

Later, when Thabo Mbeki was ready to report to Parliament on the discussion he and Buthelezi had held with Afrikaner organisations during 1998, Mandela asked that it happen on a date when he could attend. He used the opportunity to look back and to urge those still hesitating to join the national effort.

Every human being passes through this world but once. This means that one has to use the opportunities that are available to one, because, as a general rule, once one misses one's opportunities, they will never be available again. One has to set out clearly, one's aims and objectives and strive for them without worrying very much about detractors.

The ANC has observed this principle throughout its history. In the early 1950s we called upon the people of South Africa - black and white - to send in their demands, which they would like to have written in a people's charter. After that we invited the leaders of all political organisations in this country, including the NP and the Liberal Party, to come to a meeting where we would discuss the problems of our country and chart the way forward. That invitation was rejected outright by the NP. The Liberal Party first agreed, but as we were preparing for this conference, they pulled out.

In 1955 we issued our basic policy document, the Freedom Charter, and proclaimed that South Africa belonged to all its people, black and white. In 1961 we did exactly the same when we called for a national convention, inviting all political parties in this country to sit down and sort out our problems amicably. That invitation was again rejected by all the political parties in the country...

In 1990 the leaders of the ANC approached the Nationalist government and asked for a meeting between the ANC and the government. We posed the question: What is the point of slaughtering one another when we could sit down and sort out our problems? Eventually, the NP government and the ANC met and began negotiations. That is the record of the ANC - wanting to unite the country, wanting to forget about all the cruelty committed against innocent people and stretching out our hand of friendship to our enemy. Nobody can deny that this is the record of this organisation.

The struggle to overthrow white supremacy in this country was fought by the liberation movements in varying degrees - by the ANC, the PAC and Azapo. Supported by the international community, we overthrew white supremacy using our own resources and our own friends. But the task of transforming the country into what it is now could not be done by the liberation movements alone. It required the collective efforts of all South Africans. All of us are responsible for that peaceful transformation. That is one thing we should compliment ourselves for, because all of us transformed South Africa from a polecat of the world to a miracle.

The perception from the outside world is that we are one country that has shown the world how to solve what are perceived as intractable problems. That is what we have achieved.

It may well be that not all of us are aware of the significance of this peaceful transformation in which South Africans are now working together to address their problems. ...

Ever since I came out of jail I have gone to businesses, black and white, Afrikaans and English speaking, and told them that I wanted them to deliver services to our people in the countryside who did not have the facilities that we take for granted in the cities. I asked them to build clinics and schools.

I have been doing this since 1990 when I came out of prison. Not one businessperson has ever said no. I have involved a large number of our people to take business to the countryside in order to build, to take these facilities to the people there. ...

Mandela contrasted negativism heard in Parliament with the mood outside.

The overwhelming majority of South Africans, black and white, see this rainbow nation emerging. They appreciate the difficulties, but they know that in the 350 years of the presence of whites in this country, no government has ever delivered the services which this Government has delivered to our people. This has not happened before. We went out of our way to see that it does. I think examples of oppressed people who go to their oppressor to ask them to sit down and talk are few and far between. We had that courage to go to them and say: Let us sit down and talk. We are building national unity. We are promoting the spirit of reconciliation, and yet there are some people in this country who are using the ANC as a target for the most vicious attacks. They want to place before the country and the world all that is negative. We know that there are problems. If one considers that all of us, unlike them, never had the opportunity of being trained in governance, one will realise how well we are doing.572

What was wanted, he concluded, is that everyone who had in the past acquired skills through education and training should become part of the majority and follow the example of those who were doing that in ‘the other sections of our community, that is business, the churches and the educational institutions.’

Mandela’s last State of the Nation Address, in 1999, was celebratory in recounting achievements of social partnership in changing South Africa – but in the end still urging the need for an ‘RDP of the Soul.’

In the discussions that I have had with Deputy President Mbeki, we have posed to ourselves the question whether we should be satisfied with steady progress. Is South Africa not capable of breaking out of the current pace and moving much faster to a better life? As the Deputy President has often said, the policies we have accord with the needs of the moment. There is no need to change them. Yet the speed and style of implementing them can be improved. There are a few ingredients to this that need further attention.

…. The first ingredient is partnership. If we examine the major successes that have been achieved this year in addressing the most serious problems we face, one factor stands out above all others and that is the partnership among various sectors of society.

The jobs summit, the new Aids awareness campaign, the summits on morality and corruption, and the issue of security in the farming communities are concrete examples from recent months. So, too, was last year's (1998) successful Masakhane Focus Week. And it is in this spirit that we shall, on Freedom Day, announce this year's winners of the President's Award for Community Initiative. These initiatives have resulted in major advances, as society mobilised hand-in-hand with Government to tackle the issues head on. As such, one of the launching pads to faster progress has to be the mobilisation of South African society to act in unison on critical issues facing the nation.

The second element is discipline - the balance between freedom and responsibility. Quite clearly, there is something wrong with a society in which freedom is interpreted to mean that teachers or students go to school drunk, warders chase away management and appoint their own friends to lead institutions, striking workers resort to violence and destruction of property, businesspeople lavish money on court cases simply to delay the implementation of legislation they do not like, and tax evasion turns individuals into heroes of dinner table talk. Something drastic needs to be done about this. South African society - in its schools and universities, in the workplace, in sports, in professional work and all areas of social interaction - needs to infuse itself with a measure of discipline, a work ethic and responsibility for the actions we undertake.

Thirdly, …, is the question of reconstruction of the soul of the nation, the ‘RDP of the Soul.’ By this we mean first and foremost respect for life and pride and self-respect as South Africans rather than the notion that we can thrive in senseless self-flagellation. It means asserting our collective and individual identity as Africans committed to the rebirth of the continent, being respectful of other citizens and honouring women and children of our country who are exposed to all kinds of domestic violence and abuse. When I talk about Africans, I mean all who regard the continent of Africa as their home. It means building our schools into communities of learning and improvement of character. It means mobilising one another and not merely waiting for Government to clean our streets or for funding allocations to plant trees and tend school yards.

These are things that we need to embrace as a nation that is nurturing its new patriotism. They constitute an important environment for bringing up future generations. They are about the involvement of South Africans in building a better life. Thus we shall take not just small steps, but giant leaps to a bright future in a new millennium.573

As he bade farewell to parliament in 1999, taking a broader look at the overall goals the government had set itself, the judgment was more qualified.

Those challenges were: to avoid the nightmare of debilitating racial war and bloodshed and to reconcile our people on the basis that our overriding objective must be together to overcome the legacy of poverty, division and inequity.

To the extent that we have still to reconcile and heal our nation; to the extent that the consequences of apartheid still permeate our society and define the lives of millions of South Africans as lives of deprivation, those challenges are unchanged.574

As far as reconciliation was concerned, progress had been made but more than one episode had shown how easily the old fault lines could reappear, especially when organisations and their leaders sensed advantage in stirring up or playing to fears and surviving prejudices, or where communities or social groups felt – or could be persuaded to feel – that their interests were threatened by others. To the extent that the reciprocity that was essential to reconciliation was withheld, the challenge remained.