On May 10, 1994, Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president. An historic event and the moment the dreams of millions of South Africans came true. President Mandela made uniting a divided people the priority of his term in office.
He vowed to heal the wounds of apartheid and start a new chapter in the country’s history. In the words of Desmond Tutu, Mandela is “an icon of forgiveness and reconciliation, a moral colossus.”
He would always be an almost impossible act to follow but someone had to step into his shoes, and that someone was Thabo Mbeki.
Mbeki took office in 1999 when Mandela retired, a rare gesture for an African head of state.
After nine years as president, Mbeki reflected on his predecessors achievements: “The building of a non-racial society, responding to the needs of poor people, reintroducing South Africa to the rest of the world,” he said.
But the Rainbow Nation promised by Mandela still has much to do. Africa’s economic powerhouse, some 40 percent of its population still lives below the poverty line. It has one of the world’s highest crime rates and the victims of violence are often children.
The young are also prey to AIDS. The virus affects 5.5 million South Africans and has made one million children orphans.
And recent xenophobia-fuelled riots against Zimbabwean immigrants highlight the social problems that linger.
For many observers the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe represents the worst of Africa’s political ills.
Mandela’s work meanwhile embodies what the continent is capable of achieving.