The Presidential Years

As preparation began for the 1999 election which would mark the end of Mandela’s government, the climate was not promising. An ANC majority was assured, but a year or more before the election there was palpable unhappiness in the ANC constituency at the pace of change, in particular about unemployment, and the distance that had opened up between supporters and the politicians they had elected, many of whom were seen as putting their own interests first and even corrupt. The opinion polls – including the ANC’s own research - suggested that if the election had been run in 1998, the ANC majority would be less than its 1994 vote of 63 per cent.769

The ANC campaign therefore focused on contact with the public. Listening forums gave people an opportunity to raise their concerns. The campaign slogan, ‘Together fighting for change’ articulated a message that spoke to both the past and the future, a message of continuity and change. The pace of change had been less than hoped for in the initial years, during which the ANC had been fighting to change a state geared to serve a minority into one that served the interests of all South African. There had been many obstacles to overcome, but the changes that had then been achieved gave reason for citizens to work with an ANC government for faster change.

The election of a new president gave added substance to the promise of a switch from emphasis on planning, policy development and transformation of the state, to more intensive implementation of programmes

Mandela, as was his way with elections, paid close attention to detail and in meetings of the NEC emphasised the importance of the election. He took an active part in the campaign, highlighting the changes that had been achieved, enthusiastically endorsing Mbeki as a ‘de facto’ president who had effectively been running the country and would be the right person to take things forward. At the same time, careful not to overshadow the new president and public face of the campaign, he interacted, as he had done during the years as president, and in line with the organisation’s election strategy, with every sector of South African society – he took part in forums, rallies and door-to-door visits in every community. As he did so, he complemented the core message with issues specific to the audience.

In Alexandra township he talked of improvements in the lives of the black majority.

Whites have been in this country for more than 350 years. But there is no government which has ever delivered the services which my government has delivered over these five years. We have brought our people, every one of you, human dignity.

We have brought peace to this country. Three million of our people have got clean, healthy tap water in their houses. We have built 750 000 houses on land that is yours, belongs to you. And we have 1,5 [more] million children at school today. Children below age of six years and pregnant mothers get free medical attention. Five hundred new clinics [have been built] and we have upgraded 1 000 clinics. A farmer would employ a young man who is strong, to work on his farm and when he is old and he cannot work, they say, ‘I want you to leave my farm with your children,’ and the person asks, ‘where am I going to go?’ and the farmer says, ‘that’s not my business.’770

In Lenasia, a former Indian Group Area, he touched on the fears of ‘minorities’.

When there is a change of dispensation, the minorities become concerned because they reason that under the old dispensation, even though that dispensation was very harsh, we knew our position and we were able to adjust. We don’t know what our position is going to be under this new government and therefore it is the duty of the leaders of thought either in political organisations or in government always to be sensitive to the concerns, the fears of the minority and to address them candidly. Burt we can’t do so unless you yourself are very frank in expressing your concerns. This is the opportunity and we are going to listen to you. 771

In the former Coloured Group Area of Riverlea, in Johannesburg, he rebutted a statement of a National Party leader who

... made an opportunistic statement which he knew to be false when he said the African National Congress does not care for coloureds, it cares for Africans. Any intelligent and honest leader will never make that statement because of all organisations in this country it is the African National Congress that cares best for the coloured people as I’m going to demonstrate.772

Mandela, as he often did, listed the presence in Cabinet, in his own office, in the diplomatic service and other institutions, of Coloured people, a message communicated in a similar way to Indian and White audiences: ‘We are doing that because everybody, when they consider the policy of a government, wants to see, ‘Am I represented in that structure?’

He urged predominantly white audiences to use their advantages to help transform the country.

…you must take responsibility for the fact that our country was boycotted by the entire world because you continued to vote for a government which applied cruel policies; which was condemned by the world as a crime against humanity. Notwithstanding that we came to you to say, we stretch our hand of friendship to you and said, ‘Let us make peace in our country. Let us save our country.’ We have succeeded in doing that. But now you are making a second mistake because you are grouping around white parties which are defending white privilege. ... You must forget that you are part of the minority. You must regard yourself as part of the majority.773