May 9th will always be an important moment in South Africa’s history: it marks the country’s liberation from oppressive white supremacy. On this day in 1994, the newly elected parliament voted for anti-apartheid movement leader Nelson Mandela as first black South African president, with FW de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki as his deputies. One day later, he was inaugurated and began his first and only term.
Apartheid in South Africa
In 1948, the then all-white government developed a racial segregation system called apartheid, under which nonwhites (majority of South Africa’s population) were treated as second-class citizens.
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Contact between white and nonwhite communities during this period was limited as blacks were forced to live away from the whites and to use separate public facilities. Despite strong resistance against apartheid, these discriminatory laws remained in effect for at least five decades.
South Africa’s struggle was characterized by black oppression, massacres and unlawful detentions, which saw the likes of Nelson Mandela detained for 27 years.
South Africa’s first democratic elections were held in 1994 between April 26 and April 28. The longtime anti-apartheid movement leaders, the African National Congress, clinched victory in a coalition with the Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
South Africa underwent a major democratic transformation in the five years the late Nelson Mandela ruled as president. Mandela’s first task was to develop a new constitution that would guarantee peace and freedom for all.
He was also tasked with restructuring the country’s civil service and redirecting national priorities to address the effects of apartheid.
The former president led the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission, which was mandated to investigate past injustices and recommend steps necessary to reconcile the country.
Many political experts see Mandela’s reign as a lesson on governance and the foundation for Africa’s recent growth and prosperity.
His rule is viewed as an example to leaders, especially African leaders, many of whom have allowed their hunger for power to trigger endless bloodshed and a divided continent.
By stepping down from power after only one term in office, President Mandela set a precedent to other African leaders of statesmanship and sacrifice that would guarantee smooth transition of regimes to avert bloodshed.
As South Africans mark this crucial moment in their history today, May 9th, many questions still abound about the readiness and willingness of those who succeeded President Nelson Mandela to carry on his dream.