Apartheid - literally "apartness" - had been established in 1948 by Afrikaner nationalists with the goal of securing white supremacy and ensuring Afrikaner control of political power. Under apartheid, South Africa was divided into ersatz Bantu nations, or "locations" - Africans-only settlements for a rural labor force working in gold and diamond mines. A non-white community, Bantu nations were a pretense for restricting the movement and autonomy of the black African labor force..
South Africa had always been rich in natural resources - in addition to gold and diamonds, it produced more than one-third of Africa's goods and services and nearly 40% of Africa's manufacturing output with only 7% of the African continent's population and 4% of its total land area. But it had been torn by centuries of racial conflict.
In 1944, with close friends Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, Mandela formed the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), becoming its president in 1950.
In 1953, banned by the apartheid regime from speaking in public for 2 years, he was forced to officially resign from the ANC. He concentrated on the law practice he had started with Tambo - the first black law firm in South Africa.
After the 2-year ban ended, Mandela resumed his public role opposing apartheid. The state's relentless crackdown on the ANC, including widespread arrests, killing of demonstrators, and banning of meetings, eventually led Mandela to conclude that the ANC's policy of nonviolence was not working. He formed and led Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), or "Spear of the Nation", to move the struggle from peaceful resistance to armed reaction. Mandela was eventually captured and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964.
Responding to international pressure, F.W. de Klerk, then head of the apartheid government, was ready to free Mandela - after 27 years in prison.
Mandela negotiated the timing of his release on his terms - the unbanning of the ANC and other anti-apartheid organizations on February 11, 1990.
After his release from prison Mandela quoted his well-known statement from the trial that resulted in his confinement:
"I have fought against white domination and I had fought against black domination. I have cherished the idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities."
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pik Botha echoed this hope:
"We [South Africans] are like the zebra. It does not matter whether you put the bullet through the white stripe or the black stripe. If you hit the animal, it will die."
On March, 1990, Nelson Mandela was elected deputy president of the ANC's National Executive Committee.
South Africa held it's first-ever democratic elections in 1994. The ANC was victorious and Mandela was inaugurated in May as the country's first democratically elected president.
As the leader of the new South Africa Mandela had to walk a tightrope between addressing the pain and suffering that millions had experienced under decades of brutally enforced segregation, while fostering a spirit of reconciliation aimed at moving the country forward.
South Africa's black majority, having achieved civil rights after years of struggle, was impatient for economic advancement and the associated delivery of services. But many whites were now living in great fear as to how the past was going to be dealt with and what their future in the new South Africa would be.
Mandela's task was to shift the cycle of decline. Significant challenges stemmed from the legacy of apartheid, including economic inequality, suppression of information, and suspicion and anger of racial groups towards one another.
A 1994 report by ANC and economists detailed the extreme poverty of at least 17 million South Africans who lived below internationally accepted poverty level, including 12 million citizens who lack access to clean drinking water, 4.6 million adults who were illiterate, 4.3 million families without adequate housing and a majority of schools without electricity.
All level of confidence were depressed. Investor confidence had eroded and although the events leading up to Mandela's election had ended international economic sanctions against South Africa, there were the risk that continuing political tensions, including the threat of retaliations, could create economic and social instability.
Mandela had only 5 years to shift the cycle - that is, until the next election. He had announced that he would serve only one term - a remarkable gesture not only in Africa, a continent known for corrupt leaders who refuse to cede power, but also remarkable for someone who had waited so long and given so much to reach this position of power.
Many of the laws that restricted the flow of information had already been removed soon after Mandela was released from prison. Despite some progress, Mandela criticized the press establishment for not changing quickly. Mandela wanted more than just cosmetic change, more than just a few faces of a different color. Mandela was deeply committed to a free press and access to information by all South Africans. "It was the press that never forgot us," he said upon his release from prison.
As president, Mandela continued to champion freedom of the press, which he was as part and parcel of the liberation of the minds of South Africans:
"I don't want a mouthpiece of the ANC or government ... The press would be totally useless then. I want a mirror through which we can see ourselves," he said in 1996."
A freer press was just one way to open dialogue. The electoral process was designed to ensure widespread input. Beyond voting, the public was given direct voice in other significant issues.
Even before he became president, Mandela used his skill as a communicator to try to heal the country. On April 10, 1993, a year before Mandela's election, Chris Hani was shot dead in his home near Johannesburg. Hani was the most popular leader after Mandela, especially among black youth. An Afrikaner woman wrote doen the licence number of the assassin's getaway car and reported it to police. They soon captured the perpetrator, a Polish immigrant. The National Party, still officially in power, feared that all whites would be blamed, and that widespread violence would erupt, paralyzing the country.
Upon hearing the news, Mandela flew to SABC television studio (South African Broadcasting Corporation, the country's largest public broadcaster) in Johannesburg to broadcast a message - one that some recalled as the speech that saved South Africa from chaos. Mandela addressed an emotional country in a calm, deliberate manner:
"A white man full of prejudice and hate came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice this assassin."
These words were aired repeatedly. Mandela had provided crucial direction to South Africans on how to react to the tragic loss of Hani in a way that would not undermine the very thing Hani had also fought for - liberation and democratic elections.
When he became president, Mandela knew that before he could move the country forward as a new South Africa, he would have to reverse the victim culture of anger and blame that stemmed from the legacy of the past. To Mandela, the South African people must take responsibility for their own actions and confess their mistakes, without provoking acts of revenge and hatred that would tear the country apart.
Parliament passed the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act in 1995. Mandela's administration shepherded a program of accountability without rancor, in the form of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The new minister of Justice, Dullah Omar echoed:
"We need understanding, not vengeance, we need reparation, not retaliation, and we need ubuntu [humanity], not victimization."
"We must regard the healing of the South African Nation as a process, not an event ... it helps us move away from the past to concentrate on the present and the future."
Mandela had begun the process of accountability, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
The structure of Mandela's government signaled inclusiveness and collaboration across political parties. His executive branch had members not only from the winning ANC, but also from the opposition National Party (the previous ruling apartheid govt) and Inkatha Freedom Party, both of which became a part of the Government of National Unity.
Beginning at a press conference soon after his release from prision, and continuing throughout his presidency, Mandela emphasized that:
"Whites are fellow South Africans and we want them to feel safe and to know that we appreciate the contribution that they have made towards the development of this country."
He urges whites to stay in South Africa and pointed out that they, too were a part of the nation.
He told a crowd in the shantytown of Khayalitsha, "Those that do not know how useful whites are know nothing about their own country."
Mandela understood that a strong economy involved active initiative to build new enterprises and upgrade community infrastructures. So, in May 1994, Mandela announced a Reconstruction and Development Plan (RDP) that aimed to tackle the issues at the very heart of poverty and economic opportunity, such as health, housing and education. He reassured international investors that the plan would be financed via cuts and adjustments in government's existing budget. As a symbol of commitment to the process, and setting a personal example of sacrifice, Mandela, together with senior government officials, accepted salary cuts of between 10% and 20% to contribute to social reconstruction.
At the opening of the South African Parliament in February 1996, Mandela issued a call to action:
"We can neither heal nor build with the victims of past injustices merely forgiving and the beneficiaries merely content in gratitude."
Moving poor people from helplessness to hope and enabling them to take the initiative to improve their circumstances was impossible without education. Under the RDP, free compulsory education was phased in for all children, along with a school lunch program aimed at providing at least one full meal per day to children whose families lived below the poverty level.
Opening opportunities meant addressing the racial basis of economic disparities. In October 1998, Mandela signed into law the Employment Equity Act, the goal of which was to eliminate historic race and gender-based discrimination and facilitate a move towardachieving a workplace representative of the country's demographics. Gradually, a new black middle-class began to emerge. A new generation of black business leaders became captains of industry. Great inroads were made in the delivery of essential services. Progress was also occurring in education, with literacy levels increasing across all age and gender group.
Overall, large numbers of people who previously enjoyed no control over their economic circumstances and had to struggle for survival found more opportunities and tools to improve their life situations. Mandela did not guarantee jos or higher incomes, nor shower gravy-trains flooded with free-wealth, equity/shares, licence or schemes to get-rich-quick for the black communities. His Administration created the circumstances to give all the people more capacity to move out of poverty, and to give the more affluent the confidence to invest in growing the South African economy as entrepreneurs or business leaders.
As with all his actions, Mandela was inclusive and practical. He did not want black empowerment to be accompanied by white flight, which would drain the country of capital and talent.
At his inauguration in 1994, Mandela indicated that he would serve only one term as president. On June 16, 1999, nearly 50,000 people from around the world gathered on the lawns of the Union Buildings in Pretoria to witness a historic occasion: the first transition of power in a democratic South Africa. Millions more watched on television.
It was unimaginable, for historically, very few revolutionaries have voluntarily handed over power and Mandela's act was unique for Africa - a peaceful transition of power in a continent torn by violence, and in a country surrounded by neighbors with entrenched and corrupt leadership.
When the incoming president, Thabo Mbeki, stepped forward to take the oath of office, he offered a poignant tribute to his predecessor: Mbeki clasped Mandela's hand and raised it, commenting that the day was a "Salute for a generation that pulled the country out of the abyss and placed it on the pedestal of hope on which it rests today."
Much had been done, and much was still to be done.
Mandela sought power in order to distribute it rather than to use it to dominate others. He was the kind of leader who not only transforms, but elevates all those with whom he is involved.
Mandela said of himself:
"I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances."
When asked to comment about those unflattering verdict on his performance as a leader, Mandela simply smiled and replied:
"It helps to make you human."
Mandela: A Long Walk To Freedom
Rosabeth M. Kanter: Confidence