The passing of an icon

15 December 2013

Phumla WilliamsThere are only a few former leaders who, once their term of office is completed still serve as a moral compass to the world.  Former President Nelson Mandela was one of those rare leaders.

He touched the world with his compassion and unified a nation. Through his leadership we cast off the shackles of apartheid and rose to become a beacon of hope for millions the world over.

As a true leader he had a vision for South Africa to be a united, non-racial and non-sexist country where respect for human rights and dignity would be the norm.  During his inauguration address on 10 May 1994, former President Mandela outlined his vision for South Africa. “We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity — a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world,” he stated.

For many his vision appeared impossible, but as a strong, compassionate and humble leader he had all the qualities to bring peace, dignity and equality to our nation. He however did not achieve this purely by himself, he interacted with South Africans from all walks of life in the spirit of reconciliation.

Thirteen months after his inauguration the country was already a different place; all South Africans showed their support when Madiba handed the Rugby World Cup trophy to the Springboks. His triumphant smile said it all, because for the first time in our history South Africans were truly united.

His vision to restore human dignity and rights was placed firmly on our agenda when the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa was enacted on 4 February 1997. It provided the basis for the construction of a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, united and prosperous society based on justice, equality, the rule of law and the inalienable human rights of all.

At the signing of the Constitution, former President Mandela said: “As we close a chapter of exclusion and a chapter of heroic struggle, we reaffirm our determination to build a society of which each of us can be proud, as South Africans, as Africans, and as citizens of the world.”

South Africa has since that momentous occasion been moving steadily forward to entrench a new culture of human rights and a respect for dignity.

Under his leadership, South Africa also implemented the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) to address the enormous socio-economic challenges brought about by years of apartheid.   

In 1999, at the end of his term, he often proudly referred to the achievements of his administration. These included building of numerous clinics and thousands of subsidised houses; the introduction of a Primary School Feeding Scheme and Child Support Grant; and a significant increase in households with access to water and electrification.

No one will argue that we have come a long way since 1994.  Almost two decades later we continue to reap the socio-economic benefits from the solid foundations our first democratic president laid to address with post-apartheid’s challenges. We can now proudly say that we are forging a new national identity that is built on mutual respect, tolerance and acceptance.

Admittedly various challenges remain, but our society has now been transformed in every sphere.  However, we are always reminded of former President Mandela’s words that “while poverty persists, there is no true freedom”.

His aspirations for this country therefore live on in our National Development Plan and we should continue to work together to achieve a better life for all by 2030. In his spirit of volunteerism, let us each play our part to make place our country on an even higher trajectory.    

During the foreseeable future, our prayers and thoughts remain with the Mandela family. We are working closely with the family to ensure that the planned State Funeral reflects the nation’s highest regard for its founding president.
As a nation we remain eternally grateful to former President Mandela for guiding us through our first democratic steps. The impact he made would never be forgotten. He has bestowed a rich legacy on us, but it is now the responsibility of every South African to ensure that we entrench his vision and reflect it throughout the length and breadth of the country.

Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)