The Presidential Years

To trace the evolution of Mandela’s priorities as president of the country and the way in which he engaged with elements of the new nation that was beginning to emerge, is to follow the thread and thrust of the ANC’s strategy in the first years of democratic government.

The point of departure that emerged from the 1994 National Conference was that the 1994 election victory was a breakthrough in an unfinished process, ‘a thorough-going process of transformation, of overcoming the political, social and economic legacy of apartheid colonialism, of racism, sexism and class oppression’. Although constrained by circumstances of the transition, the democratic movement had, by achieving elements of state power, gained the possibility of using its new position to consolidate and deepen that advance.747

Those constraints were the perspective of the Government of National Unity and the entrenchment of some of the rights of the existing public service; a state machinery taken over virtually intact; the continuing hold of perspectives of the old order in the public service, economy and media; and surviving networks among those who had been used to instigate violence.

From the twin objectives of dealing with the constraints and driving social transformation followed the broad priorities of the first democratic government: entrenching democracy and a culture of human rights; transforming the state; nation-building and reconciliation; reconstruction and development; contributing to Africa’s renewal and the building of a new world order; and strengthening the ANC so as to give leadership.748

The perspective was distilled year by year in the changing emphases of the ANC’s annual January 8 Statements marking the anniversary of the founding of the ANC and presented by Mandela as the ANC president.

1995 was to be a year of deepening the advances made since 1994 with the local government elections e the ‘next major step in advancing political democracy in our country’.749

In 1996 it was social transformation that was to be the principal focus, and with it the need for a common perspective to unite the country in reconstruction and development, including an understanding that reconciliation could not be founded on the perpetuation of the old order of white privilege and black deprivation.750

1997 was a year in which, mid-way through government’s term, there was progress to celebrate but also problems to acknowledge: that ‘fundamental change is not an easy undertaking’; that mistakes had been made, and that ‘the organisational state of affairs in the ANC and its allied formations leaves much to be desired.’ And, reflecting the dynamics stirred by the approach of an elective national conference at the end of the year, there was an appeal to ‘put politics above personalities, programmes above individualism’.751