MANY among the tens of thousands who gathered at the Grand Parade in Cape Town on February 11 1990 had probably never seen Nelson Mandela before.
Some did not have a clue what he looked like. But they knew that the tall, grey-haired man emerging from the balcony, fist clinched in the air with a broad smile and a definitive voice, would bring about a new dawn to South Africa.
His release, although anticipated for almost three decades, was still unexpected.
President FW de Klerk, the seventh leader of an apartheid government, seemingly had an about-turn when he called for negotiation to establish a new and just constitutional dispensation where every inhabitant would enjoy equal rights, treatment and opportunity.
Effectively declaring the end of apartheid, De Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC and other political organisations, opening room for talks mainly between the National Party and the ANC, as well as other political parties to usher in a new dispensation.
While the world held its breath for a civil war – especially as violence continued in parts of the country – a peace pact emerged, paving the way for a new constitution and democratic rule.
DESPITE an undertaking to end apartheid, negotiations to shape democracy were not without their fair share of difficulty.
Apartheid after all stemmed from an inherent belief in white – particularly Afrikaans – supremacy.
Therefore, some of those who perpetuated it would fight to hold on to the laws of the land which exclusively exalted them.
Such was Eugene Terre’Blanche’s conviction that in 1993 he led heavily armed members of the AWB to ram an armoured vehicle through the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park, Johannesburg.
It had been three years since talks of democracy began and the idea of sharing equal rights with blacks was soon to be a reality the right wing movement was not prepared to accept.
The Groote Schuur Minute signed three years earlier, the Pretoria Minute also signed in 1990 and the National Peace Accord in September 1991 were all paving the way for democracy.
The AWB’s disruption was insignificant compared to the state-sponsored violence that resulted, most notably in the Boipatong and Bhisho massacres at the time.
It was also during this time that SA Communist Party leader Chris Hani was assassinated in his Gauteng home in April 1993.
With fresh fears of a retaliation civil war, Mandela called for calm, urging South Africans to stand together and not destroy what Hani had given his life for.
THE snaking queues from voting stations across South Africa on April 27 1994 were a clear indication that power was about to change hands and Nelson Mandela was soon to be state president.
Finally, apartheid was defeated and black South Africans were on the brink of freedom.
As Mandela took the oath to serve the Republic, his famous words echoed throughout the world.
"Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”
Arguably the biggest task of his presidency was delivering the country’s new constitution, a document that is the cornerstone of this democracy and the envy of the world.
Mandela’s critics however argue that while he nurtured the country through a process of reconciliation, he also perpetuated within the ANC an authoritarian culture which restricted internal leadership electoral procedures.
While this may have been fitting for freedom fighters, for a ruling party which controls billions of rands of state funds, leadership succession is naturally far more contested and this kind of succession is open to manipulation.