Becoming president at 75, Mandela was aware that his powers were circumscribed.For the first two years, he maintained the government of national unity with his former enemy De Klerk as one deputy president, and in many fields he regarded himself as head of state, rather than head of government, leaving most appointments and practical decisions to his other deputy, Thabo Mbeki.When De Klerk left the coalition, Mbeki was more clearly emerging as head of government, and Mandela retreated further, sometimes leaving Mbeki to preside over the cabinet.
His relations with Mbeki were sometimes strained he had been chosen as deputy not by Mandela, but by the ANC and its allies. Mandela worried privately that Mbeki was too suspicious of his colleagues, too dependent on a few cronies, and sometimes implied that he would have preferred Cyril Ramaphosa, who had left politics for business. But Mbeki was in many ways wellsuited to running the government, under an increasingly detached President he made many of the key appointments, he masterminded economic policy, and he remained a skilful negotiator and conciliator particularly with Buthelezi, the troublesome Zulu minister for home affairs.The sharing of power was often uneasy and confusing Mandela often intervened, particularly in foreign affairs, without informing his colleagues, and his own office was sometimes muddled. He had made the inspired choice of Professor Jakes Gerwel as cabinet secretary, but Mandela did not always give a clear lead, and was criticised, particularly by business leaders, for not grappling with urgent issues including tackling corruption and crime.
Both Mandela and Mbeki were limited by the constraints of the ANC the cabinet had to represent different strands of the party, including some ministers who had obvious shortcomings, particularly in education, health and home affairs. But the ministers who were in the most critical departments of economic policy and justice achieved remarkable stability and trust, gaining the admiration of foreign governments.Mandelas overriding objective was to set a basis of reconciliation with the white population including his former enemies, which he achieved with the help of dramatic personal gestures, including visiting the widow of Dr Verwoerd and his former prosecutor Percy Yutar, and congratulating the leader of the Springbok rugby team.