The debate about a post-Nelson Mandela South Africa and what would happen to his legacy has been raging since he was still alive.
The Time magazine May 24, 1999 edition carried a special report on SA entitled: “From Mandela to Mbeki – as Mandela era ends, can South Africa stay the course?”
Many world leaders had been concerned about the future of SA after Mandela retired and Time captured the sentiments accurately when it posed that question.
The 1994 democratic breakthrough was characterised by world leaders, opinion makers and academics as the “great miracle”, and the “rainbow nation” was born as a result. “Madiba magic” held it all together. This is how a post-apartheid SA was seen and characterised by the world and its leaders.
I think we must pause to ponder this characterisation and the false notions of rainbowism and great miracles.
SA’s democratic breakthrough in 1994 was born out the sustained and well-coordinated national struggle for liberation which was supported by the international community. This false characterisation negates the heroic struggles that were waged by the people of SA and the sacrifices they made.
Often an impression is created that the apartheid government voluntarily decided to negotiate with the liberation movement and FW de Klerk was an angel who unbanned political organisations and freed political prisoners.
The proponents of this school of thought always conceal the fact that both protagonists reached a stalemate, hence they decided to negotiate and put down arms.
The apartheid regime could no longer sustain the war against the oppressed. Neither could the ANC continue to advance the people’s war against the Nationalist Party minority regime.
It is important to mention that SA’s endemic problems of racism did not disappear immediately.
The country witnessed its worst racial attacks, the most gruesome being the killing of Oupa Nelson Chisale in 2004. The farmworker in Phalaborwa, Limpopo was thrown into a lions’ den just for demanding his post back after he was fired and evicted by the farm owner.
Clearly, the continued existence of racism threatened the consolidation of democracy in its formative years.
In writing about the peculiarity of SA’s transition to democracy, Hein Marais wrote in his book South Africa Pushed to the Limit: The Political Economy of Change: “The negotiated settlement in South Africa has survived many years without any coups or civil strife, although vestiges of racism characterise the post-apartheid society. We therefore need to acknowledge the problems of racism in the post-1994 era which nearly tore this country apart …”
The vestiges of racism and other related social ills did not break the back of SA’s democracy and society.
It is almost five and a half years since Mandela died, on December 5, 2013, and this year marks the 10th anniversary of International Mandela Day.
When Time posed the question 22 years ago, surely, it could not have been easy for many South Africans to answer it with ease. The question that we must all ask as we celebrate Mandela Day today is: Where is SA after 25 years of democracy in terms of socioeconomic progress?
In answering this question, we need to appreciate the progress made during the first decade. The delivery of social services, water and electricity in historically disadvantaged communities, building of infrastructure, including provision of social grants and so on.
However, we also need to acknowledge that as we leaped into the second decade, things started falling apart. Fortunately, the ruling ANC admitted in its 2019 election manifesto that in the 25 years of democracy it had veered off course.
This admission of failure is encouraging. Because of that detour unemployment stands at 27.6%, approximately 6.2-million South Africans are not working, the delivery of services remains a challenge and most municipalities are incapacitated.
Corruption is rife and that is being exposed at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, chaired by Raymond Zondo, and many other officially constituted commissions.
Sadly, this is not at all a good story that Mandela would like to be told on this day as it might make him turn in his grave.
Zamikhaya Maseti is a political economy analyst based in Centurion