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Richard Calland, He is currently Director of the Economic Governance programme at Idasa – Africa's leading democracy institute.,
Chris Oxtoby, associate in the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit in the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town
On an occasion such as this, we should, perhaps, start from the beginning. So, let me begin. I am an African. I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land … The Constitution whose adoption we celebrate constitutes an unequivocal statement that we refuse to accept that our Africanness shall be defined by our race, colour, gender or historical origins. It is a firm assertion made by ourselves that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white. It gives concrete expression to the sentiment we share as Africans, and will defend to the death, that the people shall govern. It recognises the fact that the dignity of the individual is both an objective which society must pursue, and is a goal which cannot be separated from the material well-being of that individual. It seeks to create the situation in which all our people shall be free from fear, including the fear of the oppression of one national group by another, the fear of the disempowerment of one social echelon by another, the fear of the use of state power to deny anybody their fundamental human rights and the fear of tyranny … It creates a law-governed society which shall be inimical to arbitrary rule.
Extract from Thabo Mbeki's ‘I am an African’ speech, delivered on 8 May 1996, Constitutional Assembly, Cape Town
‘I am an African’. It was his finest speech, perhaps even his finest hour. The day that South Africa's draft final Constitution came before the combined houses of Parliament – the Constitutional Assembly – for approval. ‘I am an African’ – such a simple phrase, but with such deep resonance. It seemed to sum up Mbeki and his vision so neatly. The obscurity and complexity of Mbeki the man and the politician suspended for one brief yet potent moment, as he brought poetry to bear on the letter of the law of democratic South Africa's founding document.
For nearly ten years – indeed more if we include his period of influence under Mandela’s presidency – Thabo Mbeki bestrode South Africa’s political stage. Despite attempts by some in the new ANC leadership to airbrush out his role, there can be little doubt that Mbeki was a seminal figure in South Africa’s new democracy, one who left a huge mark in many fields, perhaps most controversially in state and party management, economic policy, public health intervention, foreign affairs and race relations. If we wish to understand the character and fate of post-1994 South Africa, we must therefore ask: What kind of political system, economy and society has the former President bequeathed to the government of Jacob Zuma and to the citizens of South Africa generally? This question is addressed head-on here by a diverse range of analysts, commentators and participants in the political process. Amongst the specific questions they seek to answer: What is Mbeki’s legacy for patterns of inclusion and exclusion based on race, class and gender? How, if at all, did his presidency reshape relations within the state, between the state and the ruling party and between the state and society? How did he reposition South Africa on the continent and in the world? This book will be of interest to anyone wishing to understand the current political landscape in South Africa, and Mbeki’s role in shaping it.