The Status of the Dream

Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress of South Africa, addresses the Special Committee Against Apartheid in the General Assembly Hall. 22/Jun/1990. UN Photo/P Sudhakaran.

The Status of the Dream

Allister Sparks

As President Nelson Mandela prepares to step down, critics charge that he leaves South Africa bound on a course to disaster. But the problems that remain pale beside the magnitude of Mandela's accomplishments.

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The inauguration of President Nelson Mandela on May 10, 1994, was the most stirring experience of my life. After more than 40 years of writing against apartheid, of exposing its iniquities and cruelties and the sheer lunacy of it, here at last was a kind of vindication, a kind of triumph. More than that, for the first time I felt the stirrings of a sense of national identification. It is a terrible thing to feel alienated from one's own people, and that I had felt my whole life. In my first book, published a decade ago, I had written that although I was a fifth-generation white South African, I felt myself to be "emotionally stateless": I could not identify with the land of my birth because it stood for things I abhorred; I felt no sense of pride when I heard my national anthem or saw my national flag.

Now here, in the grand amphitheater of Pretoria's Union Buildings, stood the tall, frail figure of Nelson Mandela, the miracle man, the living martyr who had withstood 27 years of incarceration by one of the world's most heartless regimes, taking the oath of office. It was a clear, cloudless day, the bright-brittle sunlight crisp in the thin, high-veldt air, with just the first chill touches of the Southern Hemisphere autumn. But from the crowd there throbbed an exuberant warmth. A hundred thousand people thronged the lower slopes of the hillside that sweeps gently down from the Union Buildings into the city, dressed in everything from rags to work clothes to tribal skins and feathers, come to see their hero take power from the oppressors. And up here in the amphitheater, in all its finery, stood a multinational crowd of extraordinary sartorial and political variety. . . .

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About the Author

Allister Sparks has covered his country as a print and broadcast journalist for 47 years. He is the author of two bestselling books about South Africa, The Mind of South Africa (1990) and Tomorrow is Another Country (1995).