December 6, 2013

South Africa still struggling to fulfill Mandela’s hopes, dreams

While progress has been made, racial and economic inequalities still tear through the consciousness of the black majority.

By Sudarsan Raghavan
The Washington Post

JOHANNESBURG — When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he brought a vision of forgiveness and reconciliation to rebuild a nation marred by the legacy of white rule. But the South Africa he leaves behind is still a work in progress, far from living up to the promises ushered in by his freedom and the ideals of justice and equality that he espoused.

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A flower is placed in front of a mural of the former South African President Nelson Mandela painted by artist David Flores on Friday in Los Angeles. In his decades spent fighting for freedom and equality, Nelson Mandela inspired and challenged the world to stand up for others. But his vision for South Africa is not fully realized.

The Associated Press

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South Africa has made tremendous strides since the end of apartheid, the brutal system of white rule that gripped the country for decades. Under apartheid, blacks and other non-whites were racially separated in every manner possible: education, hospitals, public transport, even beaches. They were forcibly removed from homes, denied citizenship or a vote; any dissent was violently suppressed by the state. Today, all South Africans are considered equal under the constitution.

The nation, thanks in large part to Mandela, is no longer an international pariah but participates freely in the global economy, sports and other arenas. South African companies have expanded across sub-Saharan Africa and are a vital economic engine for the continent. South Africa, diplomatically and militarily, is playing a leading role in efforts to defuse crises in Congo, the Central African Republic and other trouble spots on the continent.

But at home, the record remains mixed, a place where Mandela’s hopes and dreams remain largely unfulfilled. South Africa is a nation where racial and economic inequalities still tear through the consciousness of the black majority. While some progress has been made, the majority of blacks live in poverty, and many still lack basic necessities such as electricity, proper housing and clean water. Education and health care for impoverished blacks remain poor. It is a nation where the economy is still largely controlled by whites and a relatively small group of black elites.

It is also a nation where there’s gradual but growing disillusionment with the ruling African National Congress, the party that Mandela helped create and nurture into the revolutionary force that dismantled apartheid. Today, the party and its leadership are facing allegations of corruption and of ignoring the needs of impoverished blacks, the very constituency that Mandela fought so long and hard to emancipate and empower.

“We have pockets of individuals, institutions and groups who are pushing Mandela’s ideals,” said William Gumede, a political analyst. “But there has also been backsliding among the ANC leaders in espousing Mandela’s hopes and dreams. His death has left a real gap, and the current leadership is not up to filling this gap.”

When he became South Africa’s first black president after winning the nation’s first multi-race elections in 1994, Mandela actively wooed foreign investors. Instead of nationalizing companies, he persuaded the ANC to move away from its socialist ethos and embrace a free and open economy, which fueled South Africa’s economic growth for years.

Today, however, that legacy is under fire. Unemployment remains at nearly 25 percent; white people on average earn six times more than their black counterparts. The ANC youth’s wing has lobbied hard for the nationalization of banks and mines; according to the Municipal IQ, a Johannesburg-based research group, last year there were a record 173 protests, many of them violent, over a lack of housing, jobs and basic services. According to World Bank statistics, South Africa remains one of the world’s most economically unequal societies.

The most violent upheaval came in August 2012, when police killed 34 mine workers waging a strike at a platinum mine in the town of Marikana. It was the deadliest action by police in post-apartheid South Africa. The ANC responded by charging the striking miners with the murders of their co-workers, triggering popular anger at the storied party.

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