The Presidential Years

Mandela spent half of his first six months out of prison the time away from South Africa. Though he visited three continents: Africa, Europe and North America, Africa was the main focus and the first to be visited, apart from going to see the ailing O R Tambo in Sweden as soon as he could.

The visits to African countries in many cases retraced his travels in 1962 when he left South Africa clandestinely to seek support for the ANC’s armed struggle, as well as political, financial and other forms of assistance. Now, the purpose was to visit the ANC camps, to give thanks for solidarity and support, and sustain support for the ANC’s approach to negotiations until progress had become irreversible. At times it was also a matter of countering efforts of De Klerk’s government to get African countries to lift sanctions.

In 1962, a predecessor of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the Pan-African Freedom Movement of East, Central and South Africa (PAFMECSA) had been a vital part of Mandela’s engagement; after his release it was the OAU, first in March to meet officials of the organisation and then in July 1990 to attend a summit. There, he was given a hero’s welcome. He briefed the continent’s leaders on the negotiations process.

Our …country is on the verge of important developments which could result in speedy movement towards an end to the system of white minority rule and the birth of a united, democratic and non-racial South Africa. The political process leading towards this outcome has begun.

It is a process we are determined to advance, overcoming whatever obstacles there may be on our way. … We consider it of vital importance that our own continent should have full understanding of what we are doing and why we are doing it.609

But even as that Summit resolved to ensure the final stages of South Africa’s liberation, it was grappling with the implications of momentous global change. In its analysis, the changing East-West relations that came with the end of the cold war and the formation of new regional economic blocs were ‘major factors which should guide Africa’s collective thinking about the challenges and options before her in the 1990s and beyond in view of the real threat of marginalisation of our continent.’

With reduced direct involvement of powers from outside the continent, the governments and people of African countries had the opportunity to take full responsibility for their own development through regional cooperation, further democratisation and popular participation.610 Because ‘the daunting dual challenge of economic development and democratic transformation’ required peace and stability, conflict-resolution became a vital element of the new approach. Giving expression to the new paradigm, the OAU Mechanism on Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution was established in 1993, with a preference for prevention of conflict, failing which interventions would be in partnership with the United Nations. In this context, sub--regional organisations like SADC would have a big role to play, even though its capabilities were still to be established.611

As the OAU shaped this new course, the ANC was in close contact, as it had been since the OAU’s founding in 1963. The OAU Liberation Committee had coordinated African support for the Southern African liberation movements. The ANC’s approach to negotiations had received its first step towards international support when the OAU Ad-hoc Committee on Southern Africa adopted the Harare Declaration. Throughout South Africa’s negotiations the ANC, and Mandela, had been at OAU meetings and summits.

These interactions helped lay the basis for the contribution that democratic South Africa would seek to make to the search for peace and development in Africa and the world. They also saw the beginnings of some of Mandela’s efforts to resolve conflict.

So by the time South Africa joined the OAU in 1994, the union had charted a new course and South Africa had been part of the process. There would be challenges, with tensions between collective commitments to promoting peace and democratisation on the one hand and respect for sovereignty of member states on the other. The OAU lacked the resources and the experience to develop peace-keeping and conflict-resolution capabilities without the help of the UN and countries outside the continent. But the new directions were clear.