June 16, and South Africa's treble historicevents
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By NKEM EKEOPARA
June 16, 1999, was a treble historical moment for South Africa. Onthis day, 198 days to the new millennium, the much loved and highlyvenerated post-apartheid president of South Africa, Nelson 'Mahdiba'Mandela voluntarily yielded power to a new generation ofleadersled by Thabo Mbeki. Thabo Mbeki was sworn in as the secondPresident of a free multiracial South Africa on this day. This wasafter an election in which the ruling party, the African NationalCongress (ANC) had hoped for an overwhelming majority to enable iteffect some fundamental changes in the transitional constitution thatsaw Nelson Mandela becoming the first democratically electedPresident of post-apartheid South Africa and the Head of a NationalUnity Government, sworn in on April 27, 1994. That hope did notmaterialise, some say it was good it did not, at least at thattime.
One of the reasons it remains a historic moment for a free SouthAfrica is the fact that a realistic 'old guard', conscious of itsplace in history, ushered in a much younger but confident leadershipon a date possibly chosen to underscore their hard won freedom fromthe forces of retrogression and darkness.
June 16, we must not forget, is the same date in 1976, 26 yearsago that school children revolted and embarked on a protest marchagainst the imposition of an inferior educational curricular on them,Afrikaans, by the apartheid regime. As was typical of that evil era,the South African Security Forces mowed down hundreds of SchoolChildren in the sustained protest that followed after 13-year-oldHector Peterson was martyred on the first day. Today, that day isknown and celebrated as Youths' Day in South Africa.
Watching proceedings on that eventful day, June 16, 1999, notquite a few of us did agree that the new millennium has begun inSouth Africa. Were we wrong in this imaginative view of the event ofthat day? I believe the answer is no. I believe it is no becausethere were very many unsavoury commentaries from the prophets of doomthat the Mandela led government may not be able to overcome theprevailing political violence, mistrust and an apparent intimidatingdisparity in the living standards of white South Africans and theirblack counterparts besetting the country as at the time he tookpower.
Indeed, this sense of uncertainty was made so real in the daysfollowing President Mandela's accession on that glorious April 27(Freedom Day) in 1994 that many white South Africans emigrated to'more secure' parts of the world. But the peaceful transference ofpower from Mandela to Mbeki on June 16, 1999, proved the prophets ofdoom wrong. It signposted the rugged resolve of a people to overcomea sad past and march into future with confidence for the good of allmembers of their hitherto bitterly divided society.
Mbeki's record in leadership and power has since proven thatleadership should not be an all-comers affair. It is something onehas to prepare for and not to be grudgingly walked into. In his earlydays, he occasionally blamed the apartheid regime for the monumentaltasks that he met even with the firm foundation laid by formerPresident Nelson Mandela, which included the Truth and ReconciliationCommission, chaired by the graceful Archbishop Desmond Tutu, acritical component in achieving set goals in the new South Africa.Even onto this day, it is still a valid option to blame the evillegacy of apartheid. However, President Mbeki has not hopelesslychosen this option as the dictator turned civilian president ofNigeria, retired General Olusegun Obasanjo and other members of hisadministration which came into office about the same time as Mbeki, have chosen to blame the military regimes they succeeded.
Mbeki has since settled down into providing astute leadership thathad seen South Africa maintain its enviable place as an investor'sand a tourist's delight in Africa. It is estimated that South Africaholds 60% of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) of Africa's gross total.This bright picture for South Africa did not come by its presidentbeing in the air frequently in chase of FDI as is the case with theNigerian president, retired general Olusegun Obasanjo. It camethrough creating and maintaining a stable political outlook, theneeded infrastructure, especially power, transport and communicationfacilities and of course putting in place transparent monetary andfiscal policies that bolster investors confidence at home. It came bythe government of South Africa doing whatever it can to providesecurity to lives and property of all its residents and visitors, forwithout these, any talk of increasing FDI, would have have beengibberish and deceitful.
Additionally, South Africa's aggregate industrial output is beenupped by 10% in the post-apartheid period, part of which was achievedunder the Mbeki led government. Also, the country runs one of themost successful airlines in the world. At a time, the NigerianAirways lacking in organisational discipline, had sought to provideservices to its always disappointed customers through a partnershiparrangement with The South African airlines.
In spite of this encouraging picture of progress in South Africaunder President Mbeki, there are still a lot to be done, especiallyin the areas of hard drug use, management and prevention of HIV/AIDSand equalisation of opportunities in the economic well-being of allSouth Africans regardless of gender, colour, creed and politicalpersuasion. One is pleased though, that President Thabo Mbeki, trueto his receptive approach on issues of concern to his constituents,did jettison his personal views on HIV/AIDS controversy for thelarger interest of South Africans and humanity. His government hassince April, put in place a well-thought out program of action tocontain the HIV/AIDS pandemic. According to the statistics releasedearlier this month by the South African Ministry of Health, infectionrate among the youths is going down, while the overall infectionrates is said to be stabilising. Given the level of creativity beinginfused in leadership by President Thabo Mbeki and his team, one isconfident that the few grey areas are not beyond the young, butconfident leaders of a free South Africa.
As President Thebo Mbeki enters into the 4th year of his 5-yearfirst term, one wishes him and the people of South Africa, aconfident march into future and a continued activist role inproviding the right leadership for Africa's Renaissance.
Ekeopara, anEngineer, worked for the Kuwait Public Authority for AgriculturalAffairs and Fish Resources (PAAF). He contributes to the opinionpages of USAfricaonline.com
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