Nelson Mandela’s long journey from the rural Transkei to the Presidency of South Africa came to symbolise the struggle for freedom and for non-racial democracy for the majority of our population.
Through his remarkable charm and magnanimity he was able to persuade his fellow leaders in the ANC and most of his former opponents and critics to join him on a peaceful march to a non-racial and democratic society. By so doing he played a crucial role in laying the foundations for national reconciliation and for the emergence of a new diverse and vibrant nation.
Although Nelson Mandela is no longer physically with us his legacy remains to guide us as we continue our journey into the third decade of our new society.
I have no doubt that he would be pleased by the progress that our country has made – and continues to make – in so many areas of our national endeavour.
However, it would not be unreasonable to think that Nelson Mandela would be saddened, disappointed and frustrated by our failure – in so many other areas – to achieve the vision of human dignity, equality and human rights that is articulated in our Constitution.
He would be particularly saddened by the increasing incidence of racism – and by the re-racialisation of the state – that is unravelling so much of the excellent work that he did to promote national reconciliation. He would also be frustrated by our failure to promote a more equal society and “to improve the quality of life of all citizens and to free the potential of each person” – particularly through the provision of decent education and job opportunities. The former President would be deeply disappointed by the selfishness, arrogance and corruption that too often characterise the behaviour of so many of our leaders in both the private and the public sectors.
However, the lesson of Nelson Mandela’s life is perhaps the strength and resilience that he always showed in his determination to combat injustice and to persist on the long and often difficult journey to a better and more just society.
On the first anniversary of his death we who remain behind should rededicate ourselves to the achievement of his vision of national reconciliation, human dignity, equality and justice.
By FW de Klerk