#FreedomDay: Recalling the past with Mandela

Johannesburg - Two cabinet members of the country’s first democratically elected government have reflected on the 1994 elections and have given their views of the country’s progress since the historic day.

Former transport minister Mac Maharaj and ex-environmental affairs and tourism deputy minister Bantu Holomisa have both given contrasting views on the matter. Maharaj was realistic, saying while the government had made significant inroads, “huge mistakes” had also been made.

However, the UDM leader, Holomisa, had harsher words.

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HISTORIC: UDM leader Bantu Holomisa says he didn’t expect to be appointed as minister by then president Nelson Mandela.Mac Maharaj recalls how he was clueless when he was appointed as the transport minister. Pictures: Antoine de Ras / Sizwe Ndingane

Speaking to The Star this week, Maharaj recalled with much nostalgia events of the elections and his first day as transport minister a few days after casting his vote in the northern suburbs of Joburg.

“It was a day mixed with an extreme sense of achievement for our country but also a day in which I had to be on duty as the joint secretary of the Transitional Executive Council,” he recalled.

“I had to go vote early and then go on duty. When I voted in a school, in a suburb that was an exclusively white suburb until then, I was excited to see a high number of black people there.

“They were there (in the area) as servants, as guards, but on this day they had to vote. They were in the queues with their bosses and ‘madams’.”

He said the sight alone was an event, “with a sense that at last, we have started the process of building a South Africa where everyone would be part of the nation”.

Recalling the day he was told of his appointment, he said the announcement was made to him and his then soon-to-be minister in a national working committee meeting called by then president Nelson Mandela.

“I had a deep sense of honour to be appointed transport minister, but at the same time, I was concerned at to how I’d cope in a portfolio I knew nothing about. After the swearing in at the Union Buildings, reality kicked in and we realised there was no time to put one’s feet up and rest.

“I went to the President’s Office to ask for the address of the Transport Department.”

What was of concern to him was that the then outgoing minister had not been at the building to receive him but had “simply disappeared from life”.

“We had a three-legged strategic goal for the period in government.

“It was the reconstruction of our society and its economy, nation-building and reconciliation,” he said.

Holomisa, on the other hand, said he was not expecting the appointment as he thought the position was reserved for those with Struggle credentials.

“You must remember that the benefit of doubt is always given to the people who were in the forefront of the Struggle; I was just a bantustan leader. It was a good thing, I didn’t query or moan about it. I thought I was just privileged to be in the first democratically elected cabinet of Mandela.

“I had tasted power at the highest level, albeit it was the homeland system – it was not a small thing to be in charge of 3.5 million people.”

On the day of the election, Holomisa was in his Mthatha home.

“I voted there and the mood was great. There was a lot of excitement, people had hopes,” he said.

Holomisa bemoaned those who abandoned Mandela’s vision when they ascended to power.

“They started to stop projects which were done by the apartheid government,” he said, laughing.

“They started to chase away people with experience in government departments and replaced them with deployees who had no knowledge about how systems worked. We paid dearly.

“We started very well under Madiba. We were occupying a high moral ground on a number of issues, and that also caught the eye of the international community. Thabo Mbeki consolidated that view, especially in the continent, by placing South Africa among the top countries.

“But when Msholozi (Jacob Zuma) came to power, unfortunately we regressed. The cloud over his head are the issues of maladministration that has sort of derailed us.”

The Star

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