Nelson Mandela’s South Africa: 20 years later

In 1994, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Before that time, the National Party had ruled the country for nearly 50 years, imposing policies that guaranteed continued white domination. Mandela spent his early life mobilizing within the ANC, African National Congress, and after the National Parties banning of the congress, he went on the create the Umkhonto we Sizwe, a military wing of the ANC that advocated the use of violent tactics in their fight against apartheid. In his infamous “I am Prepared to Die” speech given to the Pretoria Supreme Court in 1964 Mandela states that “at the beginning of June 1961, after a long and anxious assessment of the South African situation, I, and some colleagues, came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the Government met our peaceful demands with force.” (Mandela) His connection to this organization would eventually lead to his imprisonment that would last for over a quarter of a century.

In February of 1990, Mandela was released from Victor Verster prison after 27 years behind bars. Opposition parties and ordinary citizens alike, marked Mandela’s release with great celebration, as his freedom would prove to jumpstart the continuation, and eventual end, of a long revolution against the ruling National Party’s apartheid policies. The month of February marked the 20-year anniversary of Mandela’s release, however, amidst the elation of his supporters, South Africa and her people are still struggling to remove the legacy of an era that the world has slowly grown to forget.

According to the U.S. Department of State, “since the abolition of apartheid, levels of political violence in South Africa have dropped dramatically” however, “violent crime and organized criminal activity are at high levels and are a grave concern.” They also state that “some members of the police commit abuses, and deaths in police custody as a result of excessive force remain a problem” and “violence against women and children also is a serious problem.” ( HIV and AIDS also continue to be a devastating problem within the country where, according to UNICEF, over 18% of the population, or 5.7 million people, is infected. ( While steps have been taken to attempt to secure the future stability of the state and encourage development strategies that utilize democratic practices, many have been rejected for more short-term gains.

In 1996 the NCPS (National Crime Prevention Strategy), which recognized the National Growth and Development Strategy’s claim of, as Ted Legget states in “Just Another Miracle: A Decade of Crime and Justice in Democratic South Africa”, “the vital role safety plays in development,”(593) submitted a proposal to officials requesting that inter-departmental programs be aimed at increasing safety. The request was denied. Since then, few mentionable gains have been made. The international community has recently begun to focus attention on the South African situation, and with the 2010 World Cup scheduled to take place at destinations sprawling the map, many have begun to speculate the safety of tourists within a country that continues to boast astonishing crime rates.

Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his work within a country that had been riddled with injustice since colonial times. His fight to end apartheid represents one of the most important battles in history for human rights, and will continue to be an inspiration to future generations as to how best to achieve a peaceful resolution to global indifference. The anniversary of his release form prison is indeed, a moment to be celebrated, however, there is still much work to be done, and the enemy continues to gain strength amidst our celebrations. We here at the International Institute for Justice and Development (IIJD) are fighting a battle against a level of poverty and injustice that many are not even capable of imagining. We believe it is most important to address the underlying causes of poverty and recognize the need for a change in the way development aid has been delivered over the past decade. The work that lies ahead is immeasurable and while Mandela retired from politics in 1999, it is vital to remember the words that led to the imprisonment of one of the most important figures in the fight for human rights; may they be our guide.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
- (Mandela)