South Africa: Building on the foundations of 1994

Bo Mbindwane is a business executive with experience in mining and other sectors. He has past experience in public administration and is an indepedent mining analyst. On twitter: @mbindwane

South Africa has moved into a new phase of its democracy. This does not mean that the previous generation of freedom fighters made a mess of things. It simply means that the new generation is working on a different set of priorities. Still, radicalism is not the answer. We must build on the foundation that we have.

The Transitional Executive Council (TEC), an interim government which predated our historic ‘one man, one vote’ – a universal suffrage in 1994 – had many hard tasks. They had to find money to finance the first-ever free and democratic elections in South Africa. The Nationalist Party had run the country to total collapse and the cost of elections could not be paid as there was no money in government coffers.

Suddenly the victims of Apartheid had to go out to the world to raise capital for the elections, so that citizens could exercise the free vote. The TEC was co-chaired by Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk in a de facto pre-democratic Cabinet, which enabled the pair to develop a working relationship beyond the multi-party negotiations to end Apartheid. Besides one trip Mr de Klerk made to the US to meet then-President Bush, who had repeatedly refused to meet with him unless he was sure liberation was not going to be reversed, most of the fundraising trips had been undertaken by Mr Mandela, assisted by the last Apartheid Finance Minister, Derek Keys.

The World Bank agreed to loans of up to R2.5 billion to South Africa, insisting that the funds be managed by the TEC and not the Apartheid executive. This emergency bail-out was as desperately required as the assistance needed by Greece today, or Zimbabwe. South Africa could not fund even its elections in 1994; it had to go to the world with a begging bowl, and the world preferred to hear only from Mandela in this regard. As such, Mandela’s snap to reality came well before 10 May 1994.

It became urgent to make sure the country’s bank notes stopped offending the majority of her citizens. Jan van Riebeeck-branded bank notes had to be first to go, along with the Union (Apartheid) flag, and importantly Die Stem, the Apartheid anthem. The flag issue became so emotive that a team of two (Roelf Meyer and Cyril Ramaphosa) was tasked to resolve it. After this issue was resolved, it still cost De Klerk some visible torment to approve and gazette the flag in time for the 27 April election; in fact, he only approved the flag on the 15 March, causing chaos in placing orders so the flags could be on poles by Election Day.

The country had two anthems, one sung by the oppressed, Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika on one hand; and Die Stem for the Boers and the Apartheid state. These were emotional symbols for both groups. The oppressed majority had used Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika as a comfort song, a rallying song, a promise song, a prayer to God and, importantly, as a defiance song. This led to it being banned by the Apartheid state. Singing the song could land you in prison.

Equally, Die Stem was revered by the Boers and the Apartheid state; it was their rallying call, their prayer and triumph.

When Mandela managed to convince the ANC masses that parts of Nkosi Sikelela iAfrica and parts of Die Stem would be merged to form one song, many amongst his comrades thought that was just going to be a temporary measure for the purposes of the 10 May affair. Items thought to be offending to the minority or the majority were nipped from both anthems to create what we have today. Yet the oppressed majority had to sing parts of Die Stem, and likewise the minority had to sing parts of Nkosi Sikelela iAfrica. 

The crescendo of it all was not in the music, however, but the Rugby World Cup Final in 1995 in Ellis Park. Yes, the angry minority still came to the stadium fully draped in their khakis and Union, ignoring the new flag. Sport Minister Steve Tshwete was panicked about the likely racist reception, but forged ahead to encourage the rugby team to learn the new anthem. And then, wow! The Afrikaans players sang Nkosi Sikelela with conviction. And therein, the ANC public policy on symbols was cemented.

Symbols that offend deeply must be removed and stored properly in archives or museums and those that we can all live with must be part of our being. From the bank notes to the statues, there is a way to deal with our assets better. To just destroy an asset destroys the economy too, and the economy is a national interest which cannot be used to its full potential without democracy and unity of a diverse people.

With his successes, Madiba could not “blackwash” Rhodes.

Some today ask why did it took 21 years and a band of angry students at UCT to deal with such matters as symbols. This is asked in such a way as to suggest it is a failure of the ANC. Yet priorities are set and the R2.5 billion loan received was sorely needed to pay for ballot papers. Perhaps houses, water, electricity and social grants were an RDP priority until the NDP came to articulate the issue of culture and symbols. Critics fail to see that Mandela’s massive statue now lives in the Union Buildings and Mr and Mrs Sisulu are also temporarily in the National Assembly precinct. But largely there is a failure in recognising that each generation has its own battles, and this is healthy. It is not a sign of the previous generation’s failures.

Perhaps now that the generation of Peter Mokaba has created sound financial footing from the disaster of the Nats, statues can now be a priority too. Hey, we brought you a Mandela on the notes from a calming compromise of the big five. The road to freedom is long and also winding; it wound from a protea on our currency to the face of Nelson Mandela. From Nelson Mandela it may become more progressive and eventually show a few of our female heroines, minted or printed on our money: the likes of Lilian Ngoyi and Mam D, or perhaps Dorothy Nyembe will one day grace our currency.

The ANC policy is to fight against African nationalism, which would have it that whites have no place or space in South Africa. This led to the adoption of the Freedom Charter, which states that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black or white.

Our national anthem is teachable. Reverend Albert Luthuli all the way through to OR Tambo have written extensively on the matter that South Africa has whites as full citizens, and our future is not to do what most African states did in expelling whites from territories. Radicalism is not the same as independence and freedom. DM