Chapter Seven – Hello, Madiba
10 May 1994 – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was inaugurated as the first democratically-elected President of the Republic of South Africa.
The world rejoiced at the dawn of the New South Africa. Apartheid activists became bored as they had nothing left to do. So, they turned their attention to the conflict between Israel and Palestine on the West Bank.
However, the task facing Mandela’s ANC was a huge one. The National Party government had done an awesome job in raiding the country’s coffers prior to handing over power. Yes, Mandela was the proud president of one of the world’s leading nations in terms of bankruptcy. Borrowing international funds was the only way forward with the financial burden to be carried by the taxpayer for generations to come.
Mandela was wise enough to realise that to appease those South Africans who felt that the ANC-led government simply did not have the skills or knowhow to lead the country, he created a ‘Government of National Unity’.
Thabo Mbeki, another top ANC man during the liberation struggle, was sworn in as the 1st Deputy President, with former President, F.W. de Klerk, as the 2nd Deputy President.
Some of the former National Party Minsters of Parliament were included in the new government. Finance Minister Derek Keys retained his position in the all-important portfolio.
Former Foreign Affairs Minister, Pik Botha, who served in the Apartheid government from 1997 to 1994, also got a recall, but in the post of Minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs.
Mandela sat in the No 1’s office at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Exhausted from the day’s activities, he put his head in his hands and contemplated the New South Africa that he had so often dreamed about.
The reality of the situation was daunting to say the least. The ANC had made major pre-election promises which saw them through to a landslide victory to take power.
The ANC got 252 seats, the National Party collected 94 and Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) got 43.
Trust between all three parties was at a low. The National Party had been accused of providing arms and financial support in the early 1990s, in a bid to create an ANC vs IFP showdown in the townships. According to Mandela, the black vs black conflicts of that era had shown just how cheap black lives were in the eyes of the Apartheid era government.
However, now was a time to move forward.
The President stared at a speech that he was due to read on a live television broadcast later that evening. Even with his glasses on, he had to strain his eyes to read the document. His spokesperson had typed it up for him with just five lines in huge type font on each page. So, the speech was about fifty pages long.
When Mandela and his colleagues had been chipping away on the limestone on Robben Island in their days as prisoners, the lime dust entered their eyes and caused much long-term damage.
The President, at 75 years of age, also had large hearing aids in his ears. If his eyesight was challenged, his hearing was worse, but the hearing aids made a world of difference to him.
While the National Party had been firm allies of Israel, the ANC would stay loyal to those who supported their cause during the Liberation Struggle.
Mandela would be on a mission to stroke the egos of the Arab Middle East countries.
Then of course, there was the Russians, who had trained many of the ANC’s military men for action against Apartheid South Africa.
Madiba, the clan name which Mandela was known by, began to jot down the names of the people that he would need to visit.
High up on his agenda was tea with Palestinian Liberation Organisation leader Yassar Arafat. The new president also wrote down the name of Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. Madiba thought highly of the latter leader of the oil rich nation, who had done so much for his people. The Western world would have a different view of Gaddafi, dubbing him as one of the world’s leading terrorist leaders, who sought war against Europe and the US.
In the days ahead, Mandela would make it clear to the former Apartheid government staff at the Union Buildings and at Parliament in Cape Town, that their jobs were safe if they were prepared to be a part of the country’s future and not be stuck loyal to the past.
There was a knock on the door of Mandela’s office, and he gave the affirmative answer for the person to enter.
“Me President,” began one of his administration staff.
Mandela did not look up from his focus on the paper in front of him, probably because the words ‘Mr President’ were still new to him. He would get used to it in time.
“Just a reminder that you have a meeting with the security council cluster in fifteen minutes time,” the Xhosa woman said with a smile.
Mandela cleared his throat.
“Oh yes, of course,” he said, as he leaned over to the far side of his desk to open a file marked ‘confidential’.
How true was a ‘true democracy’? While a new South African constitution had been agreed upon between the National Party and the ANC prior to the elections, the risk of a right wing take over plot was real. It made sense. Until 1994, the South African military had the reputation of being one of the best in Africa. The soldiers, mainly Afrikaners, were trained to protect volk and vaderland (white people and the country) at all cost.
Now the Apartheid military and the ANC’s Umkhonto we Size were to become one. This should have enhanced the country’s military. Unfortunately, it would turn out to be the opposite as many white soldiers decided to throw in the towel. How could F.W. de Klerk expect them to salute their No 1 enemy of yesterday in Nelson Mandela?
Mandela was the eternal optimist. He even retained several of former President de Klerk’s security men. Mandela had no fear of being assassinated. He knew that the right-wing Afrikaners may try and oust his new government, but felt that his structure was solid enough to withstand this.
Mandela picked up another piece of paper from his desk. He was about to having a conference call with the US President Bill Clinton. The American leader wanted to congratulate the Madiba on his new post, but the South African No 1 had something else in mind.
On the same day that Mandela was sworn in as President, serial killer John Wayne Gacy was put to death in the State of Illinois, by lethal injection for the murder of 33 young men and boys.
The death penalty had been put on hold in South Africa back in February 1990 and would eventually be abolished on 6 June 1995.
Mandela was totally against the death penalty and told President Clinton as much during their chat.
Following his conversation with Clinton, the next call that Mandela would receive would be from the British Prime Minister John Major. The Conservative Party man had his own problems back home with an opinion poll showing a 26 percent decrease in confidence in his political party.
Mandela told him to keep his chin up and to back what he believed in. Major returned similar sentiments to the new leader of South Africa. This was far different to the British approach of the 1980s, where Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher thought that the ANC was a terrorist organisation looking to destabilise South Africa. She made it clear that Britain did not enter talks with terrorists. In the twilight years of her life, she had a brain-shift and warmed to Mandela and his colleagues, telling Madiba to slow down on his hectic travel schedule due to his age.
What Mandela needed was a guardian angel to show him the way forward. He backed his decision-making and his colleagues believed in him, but he was playing a high-risk game.
Not all the African country leaders would see him as a saviour of the continent. Jealous prevailed. Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, as an example, saw himself being outshone by Madiba. Mugabe could not understand Mandela’s approach in being so open to creating a Rainbow Nation after the whites had imprisoned him for 27 years of his life.
Mandela subscribed to the belief that if he held any bitterness towards his former oppressor, then he should stay in his prison cell on Robben Island. He lived according to the principle of forgiveness, which led Pik Botha to state that a man like Mandela only comes around once every two hundred years or so.
When Mandela had been released from prison in 1990, then-President de Klerk said on national television that Mandela’s safety could not be taken for granted. A threat on his life could come from the left wing as much as it could from the right.
The reference to the left wing was because some black people held the Mugabe viewpoint that Madiba was simply too open to compromise in order to reach the outcome. In their minds, the Afrikaner, in particular, still held too much power in terms of the economy and ownership of the land.
This went against the Freedom Charter drawn by the Congress of the People in Kliptown, Soweto on 26 June 1955.
The people shall govern. Well at least that had been achieved with a black government now in place to carry the interests of most black people in South Africa.
All people shall share in the country’s wealth. This dilemma would go on well into the 2000s, with the white minority still in control of the economy.
The land shall be shared among those who work it. Again, this political hot potato was a major stumbling block. The ANC had made a commitment to return the land to the people, but the question of taking someone’s land or home without compensating them, and then giving it to someone else, but a major talking point.
The land issue had to take place at speed.
However, the new government would battle with the word ‘speed’ and faced huge criticism that at the current rate, it could take 300 to 400 years before previously disadvantaged people would finally get their piece of property.
The man in charge was in a position of having more questions than answers. He needed that guardian angel now more than ever, just like in the smash movie musical, Grease, where the confused pink-haired Frenchy wanted to drop out of school to pursue a career as a beautician. Her guardian angel, played by Frankie Avalon, sang her way to make her rethink and finish her schooling first.
That brought Mandela to the point on education. Under Apartheid rule, there were different systems for white, black, coloured and Asian schools. Of course, the white schools and the white school certificate, were superior to the rest back then. The only way for a black kid to get the same level matric certificate as a white pupil, was to for the child of colour to be sent to a private school, as these doors were open to all races. However, the private school fees were astronomical compared to the racially segregated government school fees.
Mandela had studied much on his own in his prison cell and was a great advocate of the view that ‘knowledge is power’.
He knew that first world countries were built on knowledge. He needed to change the mindsets of the white people. It would be easier with the younger generation, but the fear was that they would be negatively influenced from a racial perspective, by their parents and other old South Africa thinkers.
Nelson Mandela picked up the handset of his office telephone and asked one of his staff to bring him a glass of sugar water. It had been a long day and he needed to upgrade his energy levels.
Then he heard a voice giving him the inspiration that he so dearly needed.
You can do this, Madiba. The road ahead is a long one but South Africa will develop into a prosperous country for all
The President looked around the office. He was the only person in the room. Was he losing his mind or perhaps was tiredness creeping in? Was the old man losing the plot?
Don’t look around for a voice, Madiba, just follow your instincts and my advice. I will guide you!
A lawyer by profession prior to his arrest by the Apartheid cops, Mandela was a man who based his life on fact and optimism. However, how could he believe a voice that was coming from nowhere?
He listened again, but the voice went silent. Perhaps the person in the spirit did not want to frighten him or maybe he had enough excitement for one day.
When the staff member brought him his sugar water, he asked if the security team had checked his office for any form of bugging systems.
“Yes, sir, they did, and they said that your office is clean,” said a Sotho man in his early thirties.
“In fact, the security team were quite complimentary over the manner in which former President de Klerk left the office.”
That made sense as Mandela was sure that de Klerk would have hidden each skeleton that the Apartheid government had prior to his departure for the 2nd Vice President’s office down the corridor.
“Would you like me to ask the security team to do a re-check of your office?” asked the staffer.
Mandela shook his head.
“No thank you, that won’t be necessary,” replied the President.
“Please let me know when the security cluster team are seated in the meeting room.”
“Yes, sir,” said the staffer, who left the office and shut the door behind him.
How could he ask the security team to do a re-check of his office? On what basis?
If he told them that he was hearing voices, they would probably think that he was going mad and needed early retirement even thought this was only his first day on the job.
Focus, Mandela, focus, he told himself.
Another of Mandela’s early tasks was to change the retirement age of workers from 65 to 60 years. He could foresee major arguments coming between white and black workers in the corporate sector. The whites would say that the blacks were not cut out to hold office jobs and were simply meant to work the fields due to the dark colour of their skin. That is the way that God wanted it to be, many whites would believe.
Of course, this wasn’t true, but many white people could just not foresee themselves submitting to a black President. To them the country, would go one way – down!