This week in 1994: Democracy 25

Mandela and his deputies
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This week we focus on struggle icon Nelson Mandela’s 100 days in office as South Africa’s first democratic President.

On 18 August 1994, the global statesman delivered his assessment of the Government of National Unity (GNU), saying its goals were on track.

The government included ministers from political parties that garnered at least 10% of the votes in South Africa’s first democratic elections on 27 April 1994.

The GNU sought to oversee South Africa’s new Constitution and ensure improved social conditions for all South Africans.

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Former Journalist and Political Science Lecturer Professor Phil Mthimkhulu says the administration was riddled by divisions from the onset.

He describes the mood in the country as tense at the time.

“It was quite difficult. When Mandela took over the Presidency there was resistance from some quarters. Even the new Constitution tried to accommodate all various factions but there was still dissatisfaction, particularly among the white groups.”

Hope of a new beginning

Mandela’s speech focused on nation building, forgiveness, redress and healing.

Madiba said his government had created a climate to ensure democracy benefits all South Africans.

“From the outset, the Government of National Unity set itself two interrelated tasks: reconciliation and reconstruction, nation- building and development. This is South Africa’s challenge today. It will remain our challenge for many years to come.”

Professor Mthimkhulu says while the majority of Black South Africans were eager to forgive and forget – most of the White population was skeptical.

He says some of them are still angry.

Problems ahead

Mandela had warned of potholes ahead, saying a facade of unity won’t help resolve issues that government still needed to contend with.

“The more these issues are aired and opened up for public debate, the better for the kind of democracy we seek to build. Handled within the bounds dictated by the interests of coherent and effective governance, such debate will definitely enrich our body politic. This applies equally to debate within parties about how to manage this novel experience.”

He urged fiscal discipline, re-organisation of expenditure patterns and careful planning to obtain Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) goals government had set for itself.

The project was aimed at eradicating poverty, disease and ending political violence in parts of the country, which was fuelled by the apartheid government.

“The RDP should, therefore, be understood as an all-encompassing process of transforming society in its totality to ensure a better life for all. It addresses both the principal goals of transformation and ways of managing it.”

The socialist policy was later replaced with a more orthodox free market Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) programme.

Healing the wounds of the past

Mandela also set out the principles which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) would operate under, saying the initiative will help heal the wounds of the past and foster a united nation.

“It will make recommendations on steps to be taken to ensure that such violations never take place again; to build respect for the law; to restore the dignity of victims and their families and provide some degree of reparation,” he said.

Twenty five years on, Professor Mthimkhulu says the wounds of the past are seeping pus.

He says White people needed debriefing before being roped into the new dawn as they had been brainwashed into thinking they were superior.

“So there was a need for some of their leaders who were more enlightened to come together and say listen here is the situation that you should accept.”

Professor Mthimkhulu believes South Africa needs another Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa).

Watch Mandela’s last State of the Nation Address:

1994 Commonwealth Games

Another notable event this week was South Africa’s participation in the Commonwealth Games, which kicked off on August 18th and ended on the 22nd.

The country was welcomed back into the Commonwealth fold after the end of apartheid.

It had last participated in the games in 1958.

Hezekiel Sepeng won a silver medal in the men’s 800m, becoming the first Black athlete from South Africa to win a medal on a global stage.

Watch interview with Sepeng after the historic moment:

South Africa will become the first African country to host the games in Durban in 2020.

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