SOUTH Africa’s Freedom Charter, which was adopted at a congress of the people in 1955, had as its opening line “South Africa belongs to the people who live in it”.
Zimbabwe Independent Editorial
This declaration had been crafted in the months leading up to the Kliptown meeting and had generated considerable debate.
A significant proportion of those participating felt the African National Congress (ANC) with its allies in the affiliated congresses such as the Indian congress leant far too much to the ANC’s view of South Africa’s future. The dissenters eventually broke away from the ANC to form the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) in 1959.
Since the Defiance Campaign of 1952, the ANC had committed itself to a peaceful resolution of political differences. The National Party regime in Pretoria took no notice and set its face against negotiation.
As a result Nelson Mandela and his ANC colleagues adopted a policy of force.
It led inevitably to capture. Mandela’s speech at his Rivonia trial in 1962 where he had come within a whisker of a death sentence for plans to overthrow the government unconstitutionally led to his 27-year long incarceration on Robben Island.
That was to be the testing ground of his principles spelt out at the end of the Rivonia trial.
Despite the cruelty of the harsh regime on the island where his eyes were seriously damaged in the quarries, he retained his vision of a multi-racial society.
His transfer to Victor Verster prison outside Cape Town in 1982 provided him with scope to re-establish his authority within the movement. Repeated attempts by the PW Botha regime in the 1980s to extract a commitment from him to renounce violence as a condition for his release failed.
All who encountered him following his eventual release in 1990 attested to his generosity of spirit and good humour. Hotel staff had difficulty preventing him from making his own bed, the Afrikaans he had imbibed during his stay on the island was given occasional use.
Above all, his policy of reconciliation through sport paid dividends in the Afrikaans community where the roar of approval he received at the rugby World Cup in 1995 where South Africa triumphed was a signal victory in itself.
Not everything was plain sailing. His bid to secure the release of detainees held in Harare on terrorism charges failed.
And despite the protestations this week that there were no differences of policy with President Robert Mugabe, any reading of events in Sadc will reveal the extent of the differences over military intervention in the Congo for instance. That also applies to the structure of Sadc itself where Mugabe wanted a permanent role.
All in all Mandela’s government was a tribute to tolerance and goodwill at a time when, as President Barack Obama pointed out this week, Africa was full of rulers paying lipservice to liberty –– and still is. In the 1994 elections PAC, to which Zanu PF was sympathetic, managed to collect only a handful of votes. Mandela’s vision of an inclusive, diverse and constitutionally-based state prevailed.
Whether it will continue as such remains to be seen. But whatever the case, it is Mandela’s vision that has charted the course.