Postapartheid South Africa

Postapartheid South Africa
The Mandela presidency
Transition to majority rule
Mandela was elected president of the ANC in 1991, succeeding Tambo, who was in poor
health and died two years later. Mandela and de Klerk, who both wanted to reach a peaceful
solution to South Africa’s problems, met with representatives of most of the political
organizations in the country, with a mandate to draw up a new constitution. These
negotiations took place amid pervasive and escalating violence, especially in the southern
Transvaal, the industrial heart of the country, and in Natal. Most of the conflicts in the
Transvaal occurred between Zulu migrant workers, who were housed in large hostels, and the
residents of the adjacent townships. The conflicts in Natal existed mainly between Zulu
supporters of the ANC and members of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a Zulu movement
led by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who was chief minister of the KwaZulu homeland.
As the bargaining continued, both Mandela and de Klerk made concessions, with the result
that both of them ran the risk of losing the support of their respective constituencies. While
whites were loath to forfeit their power and privileges, blacks had hoped to win complete
control of the state. A majority of white voters endorsed the negotiating process in a
referendum in 1992, but both white and black extremists tried to sabotage the process through
various acts of terror.
Mandela and de Klerk finally reached a peaceful agreement on the future of South Africa at
the end of 1993, an achievement for which they jointly received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.
In addition, leaders of 18 other parties endorsed an interim constitution, which was to take
effect immediately after South Africa’s first election by universal suffrage, scheduled for
April 1994. A parliament to be elected at that time would oversee the drafting of a permanent
constitution for the country. The temporary constitution enfranchised all citizens 18 and older,
abolished the homelands, and divided the country into nine new provinces, with provincial
governments receiving substantial powers. It also contained a long list of political and social
rights and a mechanism through which blacks could regain ownership of land that had been
taken away under apartheid.
The ANC won almost two-thirds of the 1994 vote, the National Party slightly more than onefifth, and the IFP most of the rest; all three received proportional cabinet representation. The
ANC also became the majority party in seven of the provinces, but the IFP won a majority in
KwaZulu-Natal, and the National Party—supported by mixed-race (people formerly classified
as “Coloured” under apartheid) as well as white voters—won a majority in Western Cape.
Mandela was sworn in as president of the new South Africa on May 10 before a vast jubilant
crowd that included the secretary-general of the UN, 45 heads of state, and delegations from
many other countries. Thabo Mbeki, a top official in the ANC, and de Klerk both became
deputy presidents.
The new, multiparty “government of national unity” aimed to provide Africans with improved
education, housing, electricity, running water, and sanitation. Recognizing that economic
growth was essential for such purposes, the ANC adopted a moderate economic policy,
dropping the socialist elements that had characterized its earlier programs. Mandela and his
colleagues campaigned vigorously for foreign aid and investment, but capital investment
entered the new South Africa slowly.
The government also had to grapple with a host of daunting institutional problems associated
with the transition to a postapartheid society. Blacks joined the civil service; antiapartheid
guerrillas became members of the police and the army; and new municipal governments that
embraced both the old white cities and their black township satellites sprang into existence.
Labour disputes, criminal violence, and conflict between Zulu factions, especially in
KwaZulu-Natal, continued. The IFP (which supported a new provincial constitution that
granted a sweeping autonomy to KwaZulu-Natal but was struck down by the Constitutional
Court) refused to participate in the process that resulted in the creation of the new national
constitution that Parliament passed in May 1996. Parliament revised the constitution in
October after it was reviewed by the Constitutional Court; Mandela signed it into law in
December of the same year. Also in 1996, the National Party left the government to form a
“dynamic but responsible” opposition.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission
The most important domestic agency created during Mandela’s presidency was the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was established to review atrocities committed
during the apartheid years. It was set up in 1995 under the leadership of Archbishop Tutu and
was given the power to grant amnesty to those found to have committed “gross violations of
human rights” under extenuating circumstances. The commission released the first five
volumes of its final report on October 29, 1998, and the remaining two volumes on March 21,
2003. In all, the TRC received more than 7,000 amnesty applications, held more than 2,500
amnesty hearings, and granted some 1,500 amnesties for thousands of crimes committed
during the apartheid years. Applicants not given amnesty were subject to further legal
The TRC was the target of widespread criticism: whites saw it as selectively targeting them,
and blacks viewed its actions as a charade that allowed perpetrators of heinous crimes to go
free. Former president P.W. Botha refused to answer a summons to give testimony to the
commission and received a fine and a suspended sentence, although the sentence was later
appealed and overturned. Nonetheless, the TRC uncovered information that otherwise would
have remained hidden or taken longer to surface. For example, details of the murders of
numerous ANC members were exposed, as were the operations of the State
Counterinsurgency Unit at Vlakplaas; its commander, Colonel Eugene de Kock, was
subsequently sentenced to a long prison term. The commission also investigated those
opposed to apartheid. One of the most prominent was Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the
former wife of Nelson Mandela; the TRC report indicated that she had been involved in
apartheid-era violence. The report also allowed many to finally learn the fate of relatives or
friends who had “disappeared” at the hands of the authorities.
South Africa after Mandela
Mbeki replaced Mandela as president of the ANC in December 1997 and became president of
the country after the ANC’s triumphant win in the June 1999 elections. Mbeki pledged to
address economic woes and the need to improve the social conditions in the country. The
ANC was again victorious in the April 2004 elections, and Mbeki was elected to serve
another term. South Africa had entered the 21st century with enormous problems to resolve,
but the smooth transition of power in a government that represented a majority of the
people—something unthinkable less than a decade earlier—provided hope that those
problems could be addressed peaceably.
In March 2005 deputy president Jacob Zuma—who was widely held to be Mbeki’s successor
as president of the ANC and, eventually, as president of the country—was dismissed by
Mbeki amid charges of corruption and fraud; the next year Zuma stood trial for an unrelated
charge of rape. He was acquitted of rape in May 2006, and the corruption charges were
dropped later that year. Despite the repeated allegations of wrongdoing, which his supporters
claimed were politically motivated, Zuma remained a popular figure within the ANC and was
selected over Mbeki to be party president at the ANC conference in December 2007, in what
was one of the most contentious leadership battles in the party’s history. Later that month
Zuma was recharged with corruption and fraud, and additional charges were brought against
him. All charges were eventually dismissed in September 2008 on a legal technicality, but
prosecutors from the National Prosecuting Agency (NPA) vowed to appeal the ruling.
Ironically, it was perhaps Mbeki rather than Zuma who was most politically harmed by the
controversy surrounding Zuma’s corruption charges. Following an allegation by a High Court
judge that there had been political interference (allegedly by Mbeki or at his behest) in
Zuma’s prosecution on corruption-related charges, on September 20, 2008, Mbeki was asked
by the ANC to resign from the South African presidency, which he agreed to do once the
relevant constitutional requirements had been fulfilled. On September 25 he was succeeded by
Kgalema Motlanthe, who was selected by the National Assembly to serve as interim president
until elections could be held in 2009.
As the 2009 general election drew near, the spotlight was once again on the corruption-related
charges against Zuma and the allegations of political interference, culminating in an
announcement by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on April 6, 2009, that the
charges would be withdrawn. Although prosecutors stated that they felt the charges had merit,
they noted evidence of misconduct in the handling of Zuma’s case. Opposition parties
condemned the announcement, alleging that the NPA bowed to pressure from the ANC to
drop the charges before the election, and complained that the NPA’s actions left the question
of Zuma’s innocence unresolved. The ANC, however, was unscathed by the pre-election
drama. It finished far ahead of the other parties in the April 22 general election, winning
almost 66 percent of the vote, and Zuma was poised to become the country’s next president.
He was officially elected to the presidency in a National Assembly vote, held on May 6; he
was inaugurated on May 9.
As president, Zuma had to contend with economic problems and social discontent. There were
several long-term strikes, some of which resulted in violence—such as the 2012 incident at a
platinum mine at Marikana, where police opened fire on striking miners and more than 34
people were killed and scores more were injured. The unemployment rate hovered around 25
percent. Many South Africans were disgruntled with the pace of progress of the ANC-led
government and complained about inadequate service delivery and overall poor living
conditions. Zuma and the ANC also faced allegations of corruption. A notable example was
the fury over the costly and extensive upgrades to Zuma’s private homestead in Nkandla,
KwaZulu-Natal, which were paid for with public funds and ostensibly made for security
reasons but which were later found to have included many additions that were not securityrelated, such as a swimming pool and an amphitheatre. South Africa’s public protector
(national ombudsman), Thuli Madonsela, conducted a two-year investigation into the
upgrades and then issued a report calling for Zuma to repay the country for some of the
upgrades; he refused. Zuma’s publicly funded extravagance rankled when almost half of all
South Africans were still living in poverty and struggling to get by. A sign of Zuma’s
diminishing popularity was evident at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela, the country’s
beloved former president and ANC icon who had passed away on December 5, 2013. When
Zuma attempted to deliver his speech at the December 10 memorial, he was repeatedly booed
by the audience.
As the May 7, 2014, national election approached, some questioned the ANC’s ability to
garner a percentage of the votes consistent with its performance in previous elections. The
party persevered, though, and won about 62 percent of the vote—a slight decrease from its
2009 national election share but still a strong show of support for the party. Trailing after the
ANC was the official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, which obtained some 22
percent of the vote, and the newly formed party led by former ANC Youth League president
Julius Malema, the Economic Freedom Fighters, which won about 6 percent of the vote. On
May 21 the ANC-dominated National Assembly voted to return Zuma to the presidency. He
was inaugurated on May 24.
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