Nelson Mandela and South Africa - English

Goodbye Madiba

By Juliane Mendelsohn22.07.2013Global Policy

Mandela was more than a former president; he was the glue keeping the country together. Five Reflections on the Rainbow Nation:


A great nation is now without a father. Nelson Mandela was not only the symbol of peace, forgiveness, tolerance, justice and unity, he taught an entire nation how to live by these principles and allowed benevolence and humanity into their heats.

The young Nelson Mandela – a man who knew that the world owed him nothing – went into politics for the sake of justice and in order to change the course of history for millions of people whom the world had previously rejected as human beings. Mandela institutionalised tolerance and inscribed the laws of equal men and women into the most progressive constitution of our time.

The struggle must continue

His legacy of peace and tolerance often overlooks the revolutionary Mandela, a man belonging to a movement of people (“uMkhonto weSizwe()”: whose fierce defence of the right to self-determination forced them to adopt acts of violence and “terrorism” that led to his life sentence for sabotage and conspiracy.

His death marks the beginning of a new South African and African era. Tolerance, _Ubuntu_ and dreams of an African renaissance may not be enough to calm and feed the dark and forgotten continent that has been robbed by imperialism, then by global capitalism, allowed to linger on through decades of civil war and now threatens to be blighted by a new genocide brought on by climate change.

South Africa in particular is ridden with violence and massive inequalities. This is a time to reflect on what the struggle has achieved, and where and how it must continue.

_1) It ain’t about colour anymore_

Last year, for the first time since the Soweto Uprisings in 1976, the police opened fire on unarmed miners protesting for living wages. In 1976, protestors were shot for being black; now they are being shot for being poor and disenfranchised. The lines that once divided our nation by race now do so by class and wealth. Gated communities are considered acceptable and “necessary” ways to protect wealth in a violent country, while most people remain in poverty. An analogy may be drawn with the violent attacks on immigrants in destitute areas of Soweto and Khayelitsha, which are not expressions of racism or xenophobia but rather poor people defending their tiny share of nothing.

_2) Economic Policy_

Despite having drawn up the world’s most liberal constitution, guaranteeing absolute equality, the same change has not happened socio-economically; half the country is still starving. This is due to the miscalculation that social policy could be divided from economic policy. But by buying into neo-liberal capitalism and selling out on social justice and welfare, we have perpetuated the existence of two South Africas – one much wealthier than the other.

_3) The ANC_

The ANC wasn’t just elected into government in 1994. It reclaimed the freedom and self-determination of all people by means of a struggle that was long, bloody, dehumanizing, humiliating and towards the ends, fairly clever. On a continent where democracy is largely just another corrupt form of failed governance, the ANC is the party that won the struggle, thereby becoming the natural leader of the nation. I believe this despite being reminded every morning, as I read Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s Facebook newsfeed, what detrimental effects this logic can have. Robert Mugabe was also once celebrated and seen as the “natural leader” of his country.

But the power the ANC holds in its current form is neither saturated nor guaranteed. Its leadership is not carved in stone. The massive power struggles within the party are the truest form of political rivalry and need to be given more attention. The prevalent whining about the definition of a “true democracy“ and the size and relevance of the opposition also misses the point. The government is not accountable to its opposition. It is accountable to its people.

_4) Antiretrovirals_

A decade ago the AIDS epidemic left families and towns without mothers and breadwinners, and robbed them of an entire generation. The deaths caused by HIV/AIDS amounts to genocide by negligence. It is the result of stupidity, ignorance and grotesque cynicism that should not be tolerated from any leader.

_5) Truth and Reconciliation_

Almost twenty years ago we staged the world’s first Truth and Reconciliation Commission, pardoning all those who committed political crimes under apartheid – however severe – if they fully disclosed their actions. It was an act of peace and maturity of the sort that can be expected from no victim. It is the proudest moment in South African history. Twenty years later, we must not forget its price: justice was not served, crimes against humanity were left unpunished and much of the blood that was spilled was not washed away but left to dry.

But in 1989 a united South Africa would have been considered a miracle. And it is a miracle. And we have Nelson Mandela to thank for this. He turned this dream into reality, and created a nation of equals inspired by the idea of a common future, accepting the obligation to correct all the past’s errors, together. He will always be our nation’s grandfather. He led us to freedom and taught us grace.

_*This article was originally published on 22.07.13 but has been updated._



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