Nelson Mandela’s views in 1993

Posted on July 18, 2018


As the world celebrates the Mandela centenary and arguments are raised about his legacy, it seems appropriate to look to his first published views about himself, the negotiations process and the role of the ANC. The article was distributed internationally in January 1993 by the Inter Press Service of the United Nations. It was written by journalist Terry Bell for — and approved by — Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

(The commentary below was published under various headings by newspapers in developing countries around the world, but not in any mainstream publications in South Africa at the time)

The central issue in South Africa – the one on which all else hinges – remains white minority rule. And now, at last, that chapter is about to close. By early next year at the latest – more probably by the end of 1993 – the country’s first truly democratic elections will be held. A constituent assembly will be elected which will draw up the basis for the first democratic government.

In the context of South Africa today, this is a phenomenal achievement. Despite the deadlocks of last year, and the numerous difficulties, progress has been made. It has not been substantial enough to meet our demands and the pace has not been as fast as we would have liked. But a process has been underway which has seen the unbanning of progressive organisations, the release of political prisoners and the return of exiles; repressive legislation has either been amended or repealed, freedom of political activity has been introduced to the greater part of South Africa and we have a declaration of intent at multilateral talks – Codesa – which laid the basis for a united democratic, non-sexist society in a new South Africa

I do not like to boast, but it is necessary to point out that it was the African National Congress (ANC) which initiated this peace process. It began in July 1986, when I raised from prison the question of meeting the then president, P. W. Botha. The object was to propose that the ANC and the government set down together to resolve our problems.

Those who appreciate the realities of the South African situation must, I am sure, agree that the progress made so far is satisfactory. But there were, of course, much greater – and very widespread – expectations. These were often naïve and romantic. They seem to be based on the idea of a Messiah armed with a magic wand. This demigod would stride forth and all problems would be resolved.

I know I was the subject of such illusions when I came out of jail. There were many people, both at home and abroad, who tended to forget that I was coming back to a South Africa which had been ruled by the National Party for 40 years; a South Africa still ruled by the same government. Not only did I not have a magic wand, I and my fellow prisoners were and are products of a tradition which believes in collective effort, in teamwork.

There is no one individual among us who is above others in position or ability. We have a pool of thinking from which we all draw. To think that a single individual is responsible for solving problems is contrary to our tradition and heritage. If anyone is made the focus around which our efforts revolve, this is the result of a team decision. Take away the support of that team and I or any other individual would be useless. We would be paralysed. That is the way in which we in the ANC function.

Fortunately the myths have now largely been exploded: we are seen today as ordinary human beings, flesh and blood and subject to all the usual frailties. This is just as well, because there are often very harsh realities to confront – and there are no easy solutions. Time is also not on the side of those who wish to see peace and stability in our land.

So we have to adapt and adjust to the situation we find ourselves in. We have to be more discriminating in our responses. This means overcoming the handicap of our background as members of a resistance movement: we opposed on principle anything coming from the government. This was a correct strategy for its time. But changed conditions require changed responses. We should not leave the initiative for problem-solving to the government. Because of our history we are the custodians of justice and fair play in South Africa: it is we who should continue to lead the government.

And whether we like it or not, the ANC and the National Party government are the major political players in the transition we are now embarked upon. Without the involvement of the National Party and the government there can be no effective changes in our country. Equally, without the involvement of the ANC, there can be no forward movement. Co-operation is essential. The ANC on one side and the government and National Party on the other side, must meet and discuss each national issue – and come to an agreement which both must honour in practice. This means being prepared to go to the other parties – and we must never forget that we are not the only parties in this process – and argue the agreed position.

We have no less than ten allies in the multi-lateral forum, Codesa, and we have given the assurance that we will be able to carry them with us on any decision we take. It is up to the government to carry its allies. However, it does appear that the government and its allies are in disarray. If they want help from us, we will try to help them because the process must not become bogged down.

So far I am optimistic that the process will go on; that progress will continue to be made. I am also optimistic that the ANC will win the future democratic election. That will be easier than winning political power. Because to win political power we will also have to gain control of the civil service, defence force, police and judiciary. And we will have to have the support of business. This will take some time.

We will also have to guard against potential destabilisation; against the counter-revolutionary backlash. The best way of dealing with such a problem will be to present a united front by means of a voluntary government of national unity. The democratic government, installed by means of free and fair elections, will have to invite other political parties with significant followings to join the government. We have such ugly problems facing us that I think it will be difficult to avoid the formation of a government of national unity.

Once we have stability, once we have peace, we can get on with the essential task of trying to mend an economy in tatters. That is the most important long-term aim: to attract investment against the competition of Eastern Europe and Asia; to build a country where peace and stability will be assured.

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