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Free South Africa: Marking the Anniversary of the Mandela Era

Two years ago, on May 6, 1994, results of the first open election in South Africa’s history were announced. In a remarkable turn of events, the once outlawed African National Congress (ANC) captured control of the parliament. And in an historic twist of fate, on May 9, the parliament elected Nelson Mandela – a political prisoner for nearly 28 years – as president.

Mandela, who languished in South African prisons for over a quarter of a century for his criticism of apartheid, stated in his inaugural address that, “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us. We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender, and other discrimination.”

In order to better heal the wounds left by apartheid, the Government of National Unity established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission has been exploring abuses by the police and others while the apatheid system was in place. Although the commission is free to investigate, there will be no legal action taken against those responsible for the crimes and this has angered many, including the relatives of another imprisoned activist, Steven Biko, who died in police custody in 1976.

Although many are working to better relations between the races, has the government of South Africa achieved what President Mandela outlined in his inaugural two years ago? What is the status of integration? How has the South African economy recovered following the embargoes and boycotts of the apartheid era? 

A question from Scott Roxborough of Cologne, Germany:

It seems that much of South Africa’s political and especially economic stability appears to be closely tied to Nelson Mandela (i.e. when he is reported ill the currency drops, etc.). Does this leave the country open to instability if Mandela were to leave office?

The South African Embassy responds:

President Mandela is on record as stating that he will leave public office at the end of the current parliamentary term in 1999.

Unfortunately there is a widely-held perception abroad that President Mandela is such an overpowering influence for the good in South Africa that, after he leaves, instability will reign.

There are many factors that will prevail over any uncertainty that may arise when President Mandela leaves office. These are: a free press; a vibrant private sector; strong civic movements; a sophisticated infrastructure; a high percentage of educated people who come from all races; a genuine desire on the part of a clear majority to make the country a success; a majority party which is imbued with a sense of realism as far as the economy is concerned; opposition parties, not strong in support on the ground, but strong in profile and with a real influence on events in the country; an entrenched commitment to democratic principles — a constitution, a bill of rights, constitutional court; and, a functioning bureaucracy and a loyal army and police force (and a strong judicial system and traditions).

The African National Congress (ANC), the majority party in the Government of National Unity, has a collective leadership and President Mandela does not dictate events, including the running of the government, nor will the successor to President Mandela.


A question from Marcus Miller of Boston, MA:

How has the war in Kwazulu-Netal (between the Zulus and others) affected the country in general and the economy specifically? Are there any prospects for peace and is there any risk that the conflict may spread?

The South African Embassy responds:

The conflict in KwaZulu-Natal is not between the Zulus and others. The conflict is between supporters of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the African National Congress (ANC).

Since the IFP is principally a provincial political party as opposed to a national political party, the chances of the conflict spreading is remote.

The failure of the Government of National Unity to resolve the conflict has undoubtedly disappointed potential foreign investors.

Hopefully the conflict will abate once local government elections have taken place in KwaZulu-Natal on May 29.


A question from Amy Jackson of Norfolk, VA:

The new constitution is due to ratified within the next two weeks. What major changes does this new constitution alter the shape of the government? What will it mean for the people of South Africa?

The South African Embassy responds:

The Bill of Right in the draft new constitution entrenches more socio-economic rights than were provided for in the interim constitution. Rights to housing, health care, food, water and social security are all now included.

There have been additions to the extent to which certain rights cannot be lessened (the so-called non-derogable rights). For example, the rights to human dignity and life are entirely protected, while the right to equality is confined to matters pertaining to race and sex. It has been agreed to extend the non- derogable rights of children in detention to include the right to be kept separately from detainees older than 18.

A commission to promote and protect the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities will be introduced as one of seven state institutions supporting constitutional democracy. The others are the public protector, the human rights commission, the commission for gender equality, the auditor general, the electoral commission and an independent authority to regulate broadcasting.

Parliament will consist of the National Assembly and a new National Council of Provinces that will replace the Senate. The National Assembly will consist of 350 to 400 members.

There will be no constituencies for the next election because it will be held on the basis of proportional representation, but national legislation will determine how Members of Parliament are elected thereafter. Only people of 18 years and older will be allowed to vote. The seat of Parliament remains in Cape Town while negotiations about its future continue.

There will be no enforced power sharing after the 1999 election. The cabinet will consist of the President, a deputy president and ministers. The President may select any number of ministers from among the members of the National Assembly.

The National Council of Provinces will represent the interests of the provinces in Parliament by taking part in the national legislative process. It will also be a forum for public consideration of matters that affect the provinces. It will consist of a single delegation of 10 people from each of the nine provinces. Six will be permanent members and four, including the premier of the province or his representative, will be special delegates. There may be different people for different matters. The premier or his designated representative will head the delegation.

While the essential content of the free speech guarantee remains, the latest proposals list three exemptions which would not qualify for protection. These are incitement to violence, war propaganda and “hate speech”.


A question from Kiley Thompson of Blacksburg, VA:

The inaugural address by Nelson Mandela spoke of bettering the lives of all South Africans. I know specifically that of the 1 million housing units promised by the government around 11,000 have been built. So, in general, how are the people of South Africa better off now than they were 2 years ago?

The South African Embassy responds:

It is true that development projects, particularly with regard to housing, have taken longer to implement than originally envisaged. There have, nevertheless been notable improvements in living conditions. Since its inception, the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) made funding available for urban renewal, housing, sanitation, education, health care and renovation of buildings, and created thousands of jobs.Examples of achievements are: the Primary School Nutrition Programme has created approximately 9,000 employment opportunities countrywide and some 5,4 million children are being fed; the Clinic Building Programme built 173 new clinics countrywide and; under the National Electrification programme, more than two million people benefited from new household connections made by Eskom, the national power utility, during 1995.

The provision of housing has proved problematic. The original private-sector driven approach has not delivered the envisaged results and the situation has had to be re-evaluated. Even here, however, there has been notable progress in the provision of basic household infrastructure to areas that have been earmarked for further development. Although only 11000 houses have been built to date, there are another 23 000 currently in the pipeline and this figure will increase exponentially over the next three years.

In recognition of difficulties in delivery, a draft National Growth and Development Strategy aimed at carrying forward the work of the Reconstruction and Development Programme has been formulated. It is based on: the restructuring of industry to enable it to compete; huge investment in education and training; enhanced investment in household and economic infrastructure; and national crime prevention. The targets are the creation of 300 000 – 500 000 jobs a year by 2000; sustained annual GDP growth of at least 6% by 2000; a doubling in the share of national income received by the poorest households; and provision of basic household infrastructure to all by 2005.


A question from Shelly Cunningham of Kansas City, MO:

During apartheid, most foreign corporations divested from South Africa. What has the government done to promote foreign investment since Mandela’s election and how have companies within South Africa fared against this new foreign competition?

The South African Embassy responds:

The abolition of the financial rand in March 1995 was followed by a large degree of foreign investment. Over $1.5 billion rand entered the country in portfolio investments since this event.

South Africa is phasing out the export incentive schemes (so- called GEIS) in line with its Uruguay Round commitments and has embarked on tariff liberalisation.

There are currently more than five hundred large- and medium-sized U.S. companies actively engaged with the South African economy. The massive influx of not only U.S. but foreign companies in general into South Africa has led to increasing competitiveness in the South African economy.

U.S. companies now employ approximately 45,000 people in South Africa and hold assets equal to more than $3.6 billion with sales exceeding $6 billion annually.


A question from Elizabeth Lee of Los Angeles, CA:

In light of the conflicts in Burundi/Rwanda and Liberia, can South Africa afford to remain uninvolved? Does the government plan to become more of a player on the continent?

The South African Embassy responds:

South Africa is committed to regional peace and security and has demonstrated this at various levels. In conflicts such as those in Rwanda and Burundi, South Africa has worked towards achieving peace and security within the context of the Organization of African Unity. Similarly, South Africa’s approach in a sub- regional context, within the parameters of the Southern African Development Community, (SADC), has been to search for ways of addressing regional peacekeeping issues in a structured and co- ordinated fashion. South Africa’s pivotal role in resolving the conflict situation in Lesotho in recent times will bear this out.

Obviously, the extent of South Africa’s contribution has also been shaped by financial constraints, but nevertheless, in April 1996, South Africa donated R12,6 million to U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to be used for U.N. peacekeeping activities in Africa.

These examples serve to illustrate how we have involved ourselves in peacekeeping in the region through multilateral fora. The conclusion last month of the Pelindaba Treaty, providing for Africa to be a nuclear weapon-free zone, in which South Africa took the lead, serves to illustrate further the extent of our regional commitment and vision.