After the first free election in April 1994 South Africans shared a single nationality, a common citizenship and a commitment to tackle the future together. The preamble to a widely acclaimed constitution called on citizens to remember both the suffering and the achievements of the past. The national flag and the anthem success fully blended historic symbols and songs. Slowly becoming racially more diverse, the national teams in the different sporting codes won the enthusiastic backing of all but a smattering of diehards.
Early in the new century overwhelming majorities of both blacks and whites declared that they were proud to be South Africans. They considered being a South African an important part of their social identity. At the heart of this sentiment lay the fact that blacks of all groups were finally free and that whites no longer were oppressors. To this was added the immense relief over the achievement of South Africa in negotiating a generally accepted constitution without any foreign assistance, thus proving expectations of a bloodbath wrong. As president, Nelson Mandela played his role as the great conciliator with aplomb and became the most admired living ex-politician in the world.
But the past still bore down heavily on the present. South Africa remained a challenging, perplexing, bewildering country. Wealthy people flaunting their riches lived close to large and growing numbers of people who were dismally poor and with little or no pro spect of a regular job. A small number of public schools able to hold their own against the best public institutions in the world co-existed in a system in which fourfifths of public schools were found to be ‘performing poorly’. Wealthy urbanites perversely persisted in buying the newest car models despite the fact that South Africa had one of the highest rates in the world for car hijacking.