When the African National Congress (ANC) won the first national non-racial elections in April 1994 in a landslide victory, it enabled Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela to become the first president of a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.
When the ANC won the second democratic election in 1999, President Thabo Mbeki succeeded President Mandela to become the second president of a non-racial South Africa. He remained as President for a second term after the ANC again won the elections of 2004 until September 2008, when he was recalled by the ruling party (ANC). President Mbeki was succeeded by President Kgalema Motlanthe on 25 September 2008. Jacob Zuma, who was inaugurated as President of South Africa on 9 May 2009, is the fourth President of the democratic South Africa, following the ANC’s victory in the 2009 elections.
The democratic order that was ushered in South Africa was a result of political settlement between the ANC and other liberation forces on the one hand, and the apartheid regime on the other. The main agenda for this negotiated settlement was the abolition of apartheid and its replacement by a new constitutional democracy marked by values, ideals and principles that recognized our humanity and sought to reconcile the nation.
When the new, democratic government first took power following the 1994 elections, South Africa was characterized by centuries of state-reinforced divisions expressed through unrelenting political oppression on the one hand, and resistance on the other; social and racial discrimination which permeated throughout general society; severe economic exploitation; inequalities and disparities which counted among the greatest on earth; a racialised state apparatus, a largely bankrupt state and an economy characterized by capital flight, and on the brink of an economic melt-down.
2. Reconstruction and the Developmental State
Thus the task of the newly elected democratic government in South Africa was to focus on the agenda of reconstruction and development within the context of real constraints, but also great social need and political pressure. Within these competing tensions the agenda of government, defined broadly as that of the developmental state, required an approach, which, while acknowledging the need for fundamental transformation of society and the state, necessarily had to be obtained systematically but incrementally.
Through the Izimbizo programme, officials from all spheres of our governance system are required to meet regularly with their constituencies to examine the performance of government. Imbizo is a form of interactive governance, which offers the general citizenry direct interaction with The President, The Deputy President, and all other spheres of government. In this way ordinary South Africans can bring to the attention of their leaders concerns, complaints and suggestions about how service delivery can be improved.
The present government has also encouraged a vibrant civic culture through campaigns of civic volunteerism and the popularizing of organs of local government and civic affairs such as Local Council Ward Committees, Schools Governing Bodies, Community Crime-fighting forums and other Community-based Organisations. State-craft and the construction of the democratic state have been at the core of governance.
3. National Reconciliation and Social Reconstruction
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission allowed for an open, honest and transparent process where former perpetrators of human rights and their victims could face each other in a spirit of forgiveness. By trading forgiveness for the truth, as a society, South Africans have been able to make a historic break with the past and overcome the dilemma – of all post-war societies – of incriminations and revenge stretching eternally into the future. The TRC has made an important contribution towards the rebuilding of the South African nation and fostering an ethos of national reconciliation.
Arising from this process was the notion of symbolic reparations to the whole of apartheid society, which had suffered incalculable harm and damage. These are in the main memorials and monuments and other forms of symbolic reparations, which reflect the country’s collective history.
4. International and Continental Environment
Steadfast in its belief that it is possible and a historic necessity to build an alternative, better world, a world of peace in which all nations share the fruits of the earth, the South African government has untiringly championed the cause of human solidarity and fairness in international relations.
Thus, in its foreign relations stance it has supported attempts at strengthening international institutions of governance and strived for multilateralism and a rules-based international order. While throwing its weight behind the international fight against the retrograde forces of terrorism, the government has also eschewed war as a means of executing foreign policy or as a means to achieve a better world.
Central to government’s own sense of well being and relative prosperity is the realization that South Africa could never prosper for long on a continent trapped in continued civil strife, conflict, instability, poverty, under-development, illiteracy, and the oppression of women. Thus it has, in conjunction with other political leadership on our continent, made a contribution towards the reconstituting of continental bodies, structures and institutions such as the African Union and its constituent organs. In this manner it has sought to shift the political and developmental path irreversibly towards reconstruction and development. Through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)1 , government has committed the country and asked for the commitment of the North, to a partnership of mutual accountability among and between governments and between them and the private sector and civil society, to solve the social, economic and political problems of the continent.
The government of democratic South Africa has thus placed much emphasis on contributing to negotiations, peace-keeping and peace-monitoring on the African continent and elsewhere in the world.
However, while peace is a requirement for eradicating poverty in the world and ensuring food security and sustainable development, it is government’s fundamental belief that these are only achievable with global commitment by leading nations to the principle of fair international trade and other matters that make global interaction among nation fairer.