Only months after taking up office, Frederik Willem de Klerk rang in the end of Apartheid in an historic speech in Parliament in February 1990, and declared himself in favour of a democratic South Africa. The ANC was unbanned. Some days later, Nelson Mandela, the President of the ANC, was released from prison on Robben Island, after 27 years behind bars. Earlier, in secret negotiations the ANC and the government had agreed to refrain from violence and work for a peaceful transition and a new constitution. The process of rapprochement was slow in the beginning, particularly because of differences and power struggles between the Xhosa-dominated ANC and the Zulu-led Inkatha Freedom Party, resulting in violence in the townships.
In the meantime, de Klerk had to deal with growing criticism from his own National Party. To counter that, he had his policy confirmed in a referendum voted on by the white population. Almost 70 per cent supported a continuation of the reforms.
After a further two turbulent years, eventually a new constitution was drafted. In April 1994, the first democratic elections were held in South Africa. As expected, the ANC gained the overwhelming majority.
Nelson Mandela was inaugurated on the 10th of May 1994 as the first black African President of the New South Africa. The first Vice-President was Thabo Mbeki. F.W. de Klerk, whose National Party had gained 20 per cent of the votes, became second Vice-President of the Interim Government.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela retired in 1999. Thabo Mbeki, his First Vice President, became president of the ANC and President of the Republic of South Africa. The ANC got almost a two third majority of the votes in those elections.
Mbeki's style of government was progressively seen as been autocratic. And his desastrous stand on two of the most pressing problems of the country, AIDS and the regime in neighboring Zimbabwe, earned him critique in large parts of the population.
When Mbeki suspended his vice president, Jacob Zuma, who was facing prosecution for rape, corruption and racketeering, the resistence against him grew tremendously, especially among the youngsters in the ANC Youth League, who are Zuma's most ardent followers.
Photos: Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela, F.W. de Klerk (from left to right). Bottom: Jacob Zuma, Mosiuoa Lekota and Helen Zille. At the ANC convention in Polokwane on December 16, 2007, the populist Zuma was elected new party president and thereby automatically as candidate for the presidency of the country. Some months later Mbeki was pressurised into resigning from the office of State President.
In the meantime, an opposition party has formed under the leadership of former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota. Numerous intelligent people are gathered in its ranks, mostly from the ANC, who are willing to fight corruption and restore democracy. They often appear in newspapers, but are virtually banned from TV. Taking the state of education of the vast majority of the South African population into account, COPE does not stand a chance against the ANC in the elections later this year, also not in a coalition with the DA (Democratic Alliance), a mostly white party around Cape Town's famous mayoress Helen Zille. - It looks like Zuma will become president. He still has to stand trial on charges of corruption and racketeering. He gives the overall impression of regarding democratic values not highly. He is relatively uneducated, sucks up to the left wingers, at the same time leads a traditional life with a big collection of wifes - the latest added only weeks ago - and is prone to violence talk and to bullying minorities. Many South Africans fear for the future.