A Dream Deferred
Nairobi – “People often ask me what difference one person can make in the face of injustice, conflict, human right violations, mass poverty and disease. I answer by citing the courage, tenacity, dignity and magnanimity of Nelson Mandela.
“I cite his lifelong struggle against apartheid, and his steadfast refusal to compromise his believes during long years of incarnation … I cite his efforts as President of the Republic of South Africa, to create the political, economic and social needed to bring Africa the peace and prosperity it needs and deserves.”
These are words of former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his contribution to the compilation of Mandela speeches titled “From Freedom to the Future”.
The book attracted a list of contributors, including former US President Bill Clinton and Nobel Peace laureate Retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, all of whom exalt the anti-apartheid hero, portraying him as a special gift to South Africa, the African continent and the entire world.
To this day, the iconic Mandela, affectionately known by his clan name Madiba, commands the front row amongst the world’s most admired and revered personalities.
Across Africa, Mandela is the embodiment of the continent’s struggle for emancipation.
His decades-long incarceration at Robben Island for starring down apartheid’s supremacist, repulsive character and its oppressive machinery is today a stark reminder of the trials and tribulations Africa’s forebears suffered.
Madiba’s inhuman treatment at Robben Island, from which it is said the lung infection emanated from, is forever a blemish on the conscience of the so-called “civilised” world.
To have survived such abominable treatment, and then to issue a blanket olive branch to his former oppressors, earns Mandela the awe of people from across the globe.
In an opinion for Al Jazeera, Danny Schechter wrote: “While activists, athletes and entertainers are honouring him by responding to his call for engagement, journalists in the obit departments of the world's news networks are quietly, even secretly, combing their archives for footage and tributes that will air when he moves on to the next world.
“They are getting ready and seem to think it will happen sooner rather than later”.
But as the world prayed for the 94-year old struggle hero as he lay on his hospital bed, many are asking whether he indeed lived to see the just society that he spent more than 20 years in jail for.
• Increasing Inequality
Have Mandela’s ideals of a South Africa at harmony and with equal opportunities – the ideal that in his words he hoped to live for and achieve – been realised?
In 2012, Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI) recognised that inequality in South Africa is still a pressing concern even after the “collapse of apartheid”.
Inequality has a complex relationship with economic growth, poverty, and race.
“Though the SA economy is witnessing positive growth and poverty is showing a declining trend, gains from economic growth have not been equitably redistributed.
“The South African economy is increasingly becoming more unequal. It is one of the most unequal in the world … more worrisome is the fact that inequality has shown increasing trend.”
A really pressing matter is that of racism.
The CAI report says racism is now at the intellectual level; it is not imposed through institutions but is instead used as a campaigning ideology by both the ruling party and the main opposition.
This has either caused or escalated detrimental emotions. Or perhaps these are emotions that people have been bottling up for the past 20 years and discussing in their bedrooms and shebeens?
Racism, labour unrest, poverty, unemployment and xenophobia continue to keep South Africa on edge, Consultancy Africa Intelligence argues.
“They scrubbed away apartheid laws, released Nelson Mandela and held democratic elections. So why does apartheid still rule in the ‘new’ South Africa?
“In the weeks and months since that day in August (2012), when riot police unleashed 16 seconds of automatic gunfire into a crowd of protesting miners, a kind of sleeping volcano has erupted in South Africa.
“Tens of thousands more miners walked off the job; striking truckers disrupted food and fuel supplies nationwide, and farm workers in the Western Cape burned down vineyards.
“As foreign investors scattered, the currency was shaken and the bond-rating agency Moody’s issued the country a stinging downgrade.
“South Africa descended into crisis, and the leaders of the African National Congress became targets of scorn and outrage — the party of Nelson Mandela was accused of breaking faith with the people,” Richard Lautens wrote in an article titled “How South Africa’s dream turned into a grim reality” published by the Toronto Star.
Recently, South African social justice campaigner S'Bu Zikode expressed one wish: to meet his country's Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and tell him that Mandela's dream of a Rainbow Nation, based on respect and equality for all, has failed for millions of black people.
“We held our first free elections in 1994. Nelson Mandela promised jobs, security, education, a Rainbow Nation where all people would get fair, even treatment, and respect.
“What's happened is that the oppressed have become the oppressors.
“A huge gap has opened between the poor and the rich; it's no longer a battle for justice based on colour, it's now social class and money,” Zikode said.
Zikode talked of a fistful of foul statistics about life below the poverty line in South Africa.
South Africa's population is plus-52 million people, and 43 percent of these are reportedly unemployed. More than two million people reside in squalid shanty towns, drawn to cities by the false lure of jobs and education in the “new” South Africa.
Impatient authorities do not want these shantytowns and refuse to supply them with services.
They are regularly bulldozed. It is called displacement, and designed to move the people on – but they have nowhere to go and so they erect new shantytowns.
During the liberation struggle, many African countries fully supported South Africa in various ways. However, many South Africans have turned their backs on their comrades, unleashing physical attacks that have resulted in many deaths.
A Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) report indicates: “It has been five years since (2008 when) co-ordinated attacks exploded across the country and led to the deaths of 64 people and the displacement of hundreds of thousands more.”
David Cote, the head of LHR's strategic litigation unit, goes on to say, “Although the violence itself only lasted for a few weeks, the lingering fear has never quite gone away. This is partly due to the fact that these attacks never really ended.”
• Father Disfigure
Newsweek’s Eve Fairbanks, who describes Mandela as a “Father Disfigure”, says South Africans feel so indebted to Madiba that they prefer their successors to emulate him rather than to govern.
The result has been that successive South African presidents have failed to deliver on essentials as they are forced to fit into the Mandela straitjacket.
Mandela rightly occupies a lofty place in the South African psyche.
He’s the national liberator, the saviour: he is to South Africa what George Washington is the United States – but the Americans have moved on and built on their founding fathers’ dreams while South Africa is sliding deeper into a quagmire.
Mandela’s transcendent forgiveness and his flair for reconciliatory symbolism was what midwifed the South African miracle.
But his distinctive style also established huge expectations — imagine if every Pope were expected to render wine from water — and left South Africans thinking that a President’s function is to nurture good national sentiments rather than to get the country working.
Fusing shut the national wounds was Mandela’s raison d’être, and subsequent South African presidents have been judged by their talent for mimicking him.