It has been five years since Nelson Mandela left us and, despite all the laudable attempts to honour and remember him, his dream of a better, united South Africa seems like a rapidly fading anachronism.
Madiba helped bring peace to this country because he realised that an all-out, race-driven civil war would leave only losers in its aftermath. He was a man prepared to put his own bitterness behind him and to preach reconciliation as a way to heal the wounds of history.
As his memory fades, there are those asking critical questions about his role in the downfall of apartheid and the subsequent way South Africa developed. He is accused of being naïve by some and as a sell-out by others. Their argument is that, with our diversity, our hurts and our anger, there was never – and nor could there ever be – a true “Rainbow Nation” as Desmond Tutu coined the phrase.
There is merit in the suggestion that the optimism of the Madiba years helped camouflage the deep divisions in society and delayed us from confronting our racial demons head-on. Madiba, so the argument goes, did not prevent conflict, he merely postponed it.
On the other hand, now that Madiba’s spirit and physical presence are no longer there, any hope we had of him checking outrageous and racist behaviour has also faded. Across the spectrum, people are becoming more aggressive and racist.
Much of that is because former president Jacob Zuma played the race card when it started getting obvious that he was there to extract as much as he could from the state for himself, his family and his network. And, sadly, Zuma’s message of racial anger was picked up and amplified by many people, rather than being examined and questioned.
We need another Madiba to save us. But is there one?