Presidential Years - Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
“My installation as the first democratically elected president of the Republic of South Africa was imposed on me much against my advice.”
Nelson Mandela became President of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1991. He led the ANC through negotiations with the apartheid state and other political organisations, which ended with the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994. The election was won by the ANC, and in May 1994 Mandela became the first democratically elected President of South Africa. From the outset he was committed to serving only one term as President. In 1999 he stepped down and retired from active politics.
On 16 October 1998, Nelson Mandela sat at his desk and he took a piece of blue notepaper and with a favoured pen he put down, in a strong and decisive hand, the date in Roman numerals. He followed this with what was his working title: ‘The Presidential Years’. Underneath it he wrote ‘Chapter One’. This was the beginning of his effort to write the sequel to his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.
At some point, at the head of the page, he wrote the word ‘Draft’. The final year of his presidency, his involvement in the Burundi negotiations, political distractions of the moment, the demands of his charitable work and an endless stream of visitors thwarted the book’s progress.
His advisors suggested he get a professional writer to work with him, but he refused. He was very protective of the writing, wanting to do it himself. He did have a research assistant for a while, but he grew impatient with the arrangement. Ultimately, he simply ran out of steam.
Sections of this draft Sequel are printed in the book Conversations with Myself published in 2010 and quotes are drawn from it for Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations published in 2011.
“I am committed to ensuring that the president of a country like ours must not live in a style which is totally different from that of the masses of the people who put him in power.”
In the draft of the sequel to his autobiography he writes about how the presidency which he assumed after the country’s first democratic elections in 1994 was “imposed” upon him and that he believed a younger person should take the responsibility.
What is equally remarkable is that it was before he was inaugurated as President that Mr Mandela decided to only serve for one term. This decision on his part is perhaps one of the most often cited examples of how he differed from his counterparts in other African countries.
Nelson Mandela used his Presidential desk diaries as notebooks as well as diaries. While his personal assistant would make notes about his activities, such as parties for veterans of the liberation struggle; tomb unveilings; fundraising teas, government work and importantly ‘Rest’.
When Mr Mandela used his Presidential diaries it was mainly to take notes whether in preparation for meetings or writing down what various Members of Parliament said in the House of Assembly.
On the page marked 29 August 1995, on the same page as statistics about funding for HIV/AIDS he wrote this note:
“Responsible sex programmes are run at schools and youth centres. 200 “Aids” taxis are driving around Gauteng and KwaZulu/Natal and another 50 in each province.”
In his 1998 diary on the page for 11 to 13 December he wrote about how one had to have been in a South African prison in order to see how cruel people can be to one another.
Throughout his term as President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was open about his health. From the time of his early years in prison he became used to rumours about his ‘deteriorating’ health.
As President he confronted all health issues head on, whether it was issuing press statements or appearing in front of the media alongside his doctors, he was open about these challenges.
He even went as far as himself editing an official statement to be issued about his health on 22 February 1990. This typed note with a paragraph scratched out and replaced by one in his hand is housed in the archive of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.
In the midst of a gruelling term of office as President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela took the time out to write to a young correspondent who had asked him if he observed Valentine’s Day.
He wrote back in a note dated 13 February 1995 admitting that he didn’t know very much about it at all. He used the letter to explain his background and the fact that he only really started receiving Valentines tokens after his release from prison – when he was already in his 70s.
Contributor: Photographer—Ardon Bar-Hama
Contributor: Research & Curation—Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory Staff