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

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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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Politically, allegations of corruption have touched the highest levels of office - something that would have been unthinkable under Mandela’s single term in office. President Jacob Zuma is facing a government probe for allegedly spending about $20 million of state funds to renovate his luxurious private residence in KwaZulu Natal province. In 2006, he was acquitted of rape charges. In 2009, charges that he allegedly took bribes from arms dealers were dropped, paving the way for his presidency.

In the famed township of Soweto, on Vilakazi Street where Mandela once lived, youths protested and fought the apartheid regime in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Today, many young people here express concern about their future in a post-Mandela South Africa.

“Madiba wanted us to have peace and no racism,” said Thandeke Belle, 14, a middle school student, using Mandela’s clan name, as many people in South Africa do. “I still feel there is racism although it was not as much as apartheid. The whites are still at the top, and we blacks are stuck down at the middle.”

“Poor people are going to become poorer and the rich will get richer because of what’s happening,” said Belle’s classmate, Thato Tshabale, 15, who was standing next to her. “If you are a normal person with no connections, you will be nothing in today’s South Africa.”

Tshabale said his ability to achieve his dreams of going to college and acquiring a healthy income are limited. “I don’t think apartheid has ended,” he said. “Right now, in order for us to learn, we need money. But the whites always have money and they get a lot more chances than blacks.”

Papallo Chapedi, 15, said his mother had been waiting more than 10 years for government-subsidized housing, while some of his friends’ relatives were able to get housing due to their ties to the ANC. He criticized Zuma’s leadership, saying that he “does not even come close to Mandela” in terms of what he has provided to South Africans.

“I feel a huge animosity towards the ANC,” Chapedi said. “It’s not empowering our needs. There is a lot of corruption; there’s propaganda. I would like to see change.”

Patrick Hanratty, 64, had brought some Italian tourists to look at where Mandela had lived. For the white tour operator, Mandela’s vision for South Africa had been partially realized.

“There have been successes, and there have been failures,” Hanratty said. “We are living in a society that has a measure of justice, whereas before we were living in a very unjust society. The feeling of guilt is still there of having benefited from the misfortune of our black brothers, but it is less than it used to be.”

He added that whites like him “still live in a very privileged position,” but he said this was also partly because the government was being careful not to alienate whites.

“You can’t dismantle an economy and make everybody equal,” he said. “To do that would endanger the development of the country. The government is following a pragmatic approach. They don’t want white flight. They want to keep as many skills and as much capital in the country” as possible.

Perhaps the biggest impact that Mandela’s vision has had on whites, said Hanratty, is that they are no longer ostracized by the world, particularly in Africa.

“You can be a white South African and can go all the way to Cairo without being considered a pariah,” Hanratty said. “You can show your passport with pride. South Africans can play sport anywhere in the world. This helps our national identity very much.”

Despite all the challenges South Africa faces upon Mandela’s death, many South Africans expressed gratitude that they were led by a man who by example showed how leaders should govern their nation, imbued with the principles of democracy, justice and equality.

“He was our George Washington,” said Gumede, the political analyst. “In his personal and public life, he created a gold standard and way of governing that showed us how our leaders should govern. . . . We know what is possible. Not many leaders in Africa can set that kind of example.”

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