EMBODYING THE NATION
Reflecting on his dramatic interpretation in prison of the role of Creon in Sophocles' Antigone, Mandela acknowledged that 'you cannot know a man completely, his character, his principles, and sense of judgment [until] he's shown his colour, ruling the people, making laws … there's the test'.1 Did Mandela meet such challenges? Mandela's experience of executive authority was brief, because he served only one term as president of South Africa, from 1994 until 1999. How critical are the evaluations of future political historians likely to be of Mandela's short tenure of public office?
Mandela presided over a Government of National Unity. Although, strictly speaking, this was a coalition, the African National Congress (ANC) predominated. Nearly halfway through its term, in May 1996, F.W de Klerk and his colleagues joined the opposition benches, disappointed at their lack of influence in cabinet as well as their failure to persuade the ANC to entrench power sharing in the permanent constitution. At first, members of the cabinet worked together quite co-operatively, de Klerk concedes, although he was taken aback personally by Mandela's failure to consult him over the allocation of ANC portfolios, technically a constitutional requirement. De Klerk developed an easy relationship with Thabo Mbeki, and he and his colleagues felt that they could influence key policy areas such as education and the management of the economy. On the other hand, he was 'never asked to do more than the immediate role that the constitution had determined'2 and he nearly resigned from the government on 15 January 1995 after Mandela attacked him with 'a tirade'3 over indemnities extended to 3,000 senior police officers just before the election. Mandela's angry admonishment of his predecessor in front of his ministerial colleagues was followed by a pri