It’s strange that a mere anniversary should generate not only great emotion, but the widest range of opinion: today marks twenty years since Nelson Mandela walked free from Victor Verster prison. We knew that, for South Africa, things would not remain the same for long.
Mandela’s release was an inevitability, something that the then rulers of the country understood well. Even so, someone had to stand up and be counted, and that was F W de Klerk’s task. He knew that apartheid could not hold down the lid on what was fast becoming an overheated pressure cooker. Moreover, the ban on the African National Congress (ANC) had to be ended.
To de Klerk’s great credit, he took those difficult decisions, and to Mandela’s greater credit, there was a move towards reconciliation. Even so, twenty years later, there is still poverty and widespread unemployment across South Africa, and more than a suggestion of corruption within the ANC led administration.
So the reaction to this anniversary has been varied: the Maily Telegraph is predictably sniffy, while the Murdoch Times has tried to promote a story that Mandela, now a frail 91 years old, had planned to re-enact his walk to freedom. But one thing comes clear: South Africa may not be a place of perfection, but it has made the transition to democratic rule by all the people without major upheaval or bloodshed.
And for that, we should all be thankful.