After South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela formed a Government of National Unity led by the African National Congress (ANC). His presidency (1994-1999) focused on the challenges of nation-building, reconciliation and reckoning with the past. Rebuilding South Africa’s international reputation was also high on his agenda.
He relied on Deputy President Thabo Mbeki and his Cabinet to look after governance and the nuts and bolts of transformation. The challenges were many. Apartheid socio-economic patterning was resilient. The damage wrought to the social fabric by centuries of oppression was profound. And there was considerable vested interest in avoiding significant restructuring of the state and the economy. President Mandela voluntarily stepped down after one term in office to make way for a new generation of leadership. But his acute sense of unfinished business would not allow him to retire from public life. He founded charitable organisations to continue his work.
He contributed to finding peace in international conflicts. He spoke out on issues as diverse as HIV/AIDS, corruption, poverty, the Iraq War and Zimbabwe. By his 90th birthday in 2008 he was a global icon of unparalleled stature. In 2009 his birthday was declared Nelson Mandela International Day. In 1998 Mandela married his third wife, Graça Machel. From 1999 he devoted more time to domestic life, and was often surrounded by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.