Hayward Young & Co

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Constitution

The final death knell of apartheid was sounded fourteen years later, when South Africa’s towering figure Nelson Mandela was released from jail. He had almost mythical status in the African community; he rapidly commanded the respect even of the whites who had opposed him and had much to lose. This extract from a praise poem written about him in 1952 shows considerable prescience:

Hacker in thorn brakes,

Scything swathes through ignorance;

Colossus astride the earth;

Rocker rocking the land,

Encoiling it like chanti,

Snake that swims the Vaal,

But sips the Zambesi;

Servant of Africa’s nations…

by D L P Yali-Manisi [14]

The Constitution of 1996 in the outcome bore little resemblance to the long-held claims of the two competing nationalisms. If Afrikaner nationalism lost its dominating position, it can scarcely be claimed that African nationalism merely took its place. Rather it encompassed the moderate, middle-of-the road pragmatism and strong respect for Law – closer to the British liberal tradition – which were needed to hold together a fractured nation, a nation of eleven recognised languages and all the colours of the rainbow, after several years of something approaching civil war.

In this, the Constitution, and the settlement it represents, echo that earlier period of reconciliation, after that earlier civil war, when the protagonists also decided that to “lay my hand in my neighbour’s hand” was better than to continue their strife until the land had been altogether laid waste. Outright victory might have been won, but it would have been the conquest of a desert.

This walkway is dedicated to the reconciliation that has brought peace and prosperity to South Africa since 1996. In 1902 that opportunity was undermined by the exclusion of the indigenous people, and a hundred years of strife followed. Let us all learn the lessons thereof.

[14] From “Chief Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela – Hail, Earth Tremor!” in Izibongo zeenkosi zamaXhosa, 1952.. Praise song. The South African constitution was promulgated in 1996, two years after the first democratic elections which led to Mr Mandela becoming President.