6 Dec 2013

Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s journey to freedom

White South Africans once saw Nelson Mandela as the head of a terrorist sect bent on destroying their comfortable lives. Channel 4 News looks at the journey Mandela and his country have taken.

Nelson Mandela and South Africa's road to freedom: Protestor in Soweto. (Getty images)

When Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962, the South Africa he had known all his life had been run by the British and Afrikaans.

They ruled together from 1910 under the Union of South Africa, established eight years before Mandela’s birth in the Eastern Cape.

The ruling National Party, which was voted into power in 1948, compounded the racial segregation by making it legal – introducing the apartheid system which plagued South Africa until 1993.

Mandela led the opposition to apartheid as the founder and commander in chief of the African National Congress (ANC). For that, he was imprisoned for 27 years of his life.

A whites-only referendum established South Africa as a republic in 1961, but it was not until 1994 that the country – beaten down by relentless protests and insurgency – held its first multi-racial elections.

The old regime crumbled, the ANC was installed, and Nelson Mandela become South Africa’s first black president.

Rainbow nation

Under Mandela, South Africa became the rainbow nation he envisaged from his prison cell.

President for just one term, he concentrated on rebuilding the image of South Africa as a viable option for international business. Meanwhile, his deputy Thabo Mbeki ran the day-to-day business of government.

Today, South Africa is the richest country in Africa, with an economy ranked 27th in the world in 2011 by the World Bank in terms of GDP.

As the host of the 2010 football World Cup, South Africa confounded the sceptics who prophesied murders and muggings – changing the perceptions of a nation, and a continent.

Crime actually fell during the games – which was no mean feat for a nation with one of the world’s highest crime rates. South Africa suffers an average of 50 murders every day.

Haves and have-nots

Indeed, the nation still has far to come. The balance between the races remains off kilter – between the haves and have-nots.

It also suffers acutely on the most basic levels, from housing to providing education and healthcare. More than a quarter of South Africa’s population currently receives social grants, according to Forbes magazine.

Today, if you drive into Cape Town from the airport, the motorway passes by one of the country’s largest townships.

It is grim, unavoidable – and serves as a constant reminder to the government of just how much work there is still to do.