THE ‘Rainbow Nation’ concept South Africans dreamed of has had five State Presidents in 23 short years!
That’s after Nelson Mandela (July 18, 1918-December 5, 2013) broke the back of the apartheid government system to become the first freelyelected President via universal suffrage following the April 27, 1994 elections.
Before that, no non-White – and, least of all: a Black – could become President of what was then the most powerful country in Africa in economic, military and segregationist terms!
So, after spending nearly 27 years of his prime life in apartheid prisons (June 12, 1964-February 11, 1990), Mandela assumed the Presidency at the ripe old age of 76 years on May 10, 1994. In My Book of Things, Mkhulu Nelson Rolihlahla Madiba Mandela was about the most effective/successful anti-apartheid activist among scores of South African ‘freedom fighters.’
In other words: Mandela virtually behind the ‘death’ of South Africa’s apartheid system. That’s why the Nobel Committee awarded Mandela jointly with his strange political bedfellow, President Fredrik Willem de Klerk, the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. But, that’s a tale fit to be told another day…
As President, Mandela refused to cling to power, hanging on at the helm in the wheelhouse of the Ship of State. He could have done that as easily falling off a log rolling down a wet slope on a dark, rainy night. Instead, he willingly left the Highest Office in the Land on June 16, 1999.
As President, Mandela was preceded by de Klerk (Aug. 15, 1989-May 10, 1994) – whom he (Mandela) generously, graciously, appointed one of his two Deputies.
His other Deputy was Thabo Mbeki, who later succeeded him as President on June 16, 1999 (to September 24, 2008). Although the 1996 Constitution allowed presidents to serve two consecutive fiveyear terms, Mandela didn’t seek a second term. So, he gave his farewell speech in Parliament on March 29, 1999 before it was adjourned for the 1999 elections.
The man remained popular not only with fellow South Africans, but virtually across the world in countries that ‘knew’ him. 80 percent of South Africans polled in 1999 expressed satisfaction with his performance as president.
That’s one South African President out of the way… President Number Two, the Xhosa Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki (June 18, 1942–) assumed the Presidency on June 16, 1999, and ‘resigned’ on September 24, 2008: nine months before his second and final term was statutorily due to end.
South African presidents aren’t ‘elected’ through universal suffrage; they’re usually the leader of the largest political party, approved/‘elected’ by the National Assembly.
So, when President Mbeki was ‘found’ by Judge Christopher Nicholson of “improper interference in the National Prosecuting Authority, including the prosecution of Jacob Zuma for corruption,” Mbeki was ‘recalled’ by his party (ANC) – in consequence whereof he resigned the Presidency.
This was despite Judge Nicholson’s ‘finding’ being unanimously overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal on January 12, 2009. Mbeki was replaced by a stop-gap/care-taker President, his low-profile Vice- President, the Sotho-speaking Kgalema Petrus Motlanthe (born July 19, 1949–).
But the third Black South African President precariously hung on in there for less than a year: September 25, 2008- May 9, 2009! Then Jacob Zuma descended on the Presidential scene on May 9, 2009, ‘elected’ by the National Assembly following ANC’s victory at the general election that year.
As the fourth post-apartheid (and Black) President, the maverick Zulu Jacob Gedleyihlekisa ‘Msholozi’ Zuma (April 12, 1942–) hung around State House from May 9, 2009 until February 14, 2018, when he resigned – doing so also under unduly heavy pressure with a little more than a year to the statutory end of his second presidential term.
His middle name ‘Gedleyihlekisa’ means ‘one who smiles while causing you harm’ in Zulu. With no formal education to speak of, Zuma has married/been married to no less than six women, namely Gertrude Khumalo (married 1973); Kate Mantsho (married 1976; died 2000); Nkosazana Dlamini (married 1982, divorced 1998); Nompumelelo Ntuli (married 2008); Thobeka Mabhija (married 2010); Gloria Ngema (married 2012)... Boy!
Perhaps seeing a bleak future as a leader – and fearing post-Presidency prosecution for a myriad criminal allegations – Zuma sought every which way to have his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma succeed him both as ANC President and State President beginning in year-2015. However, that never worked; she was defeated by candidate Cyril Ramaphosa in the election for the party leadership at the December 2017 ANC Conference at the Nasrec (‘National Recreation Center’) in Johannesburg. Cyril Ramaphosa, did you say…?
That’s South Africa’s 5th President in the rapid series. Mandela resigned on his own accord after one term; the next three were virtually hounded out of Office before finishing their second term. The fifth, sitting President Ramaphosa… Well; it’s too early to tell…