Mandela was commonly revered as a father of the post-apartheid South African nation and his death on 5th December was felt across the world. Dan Hammett asks ‘What might the future hold for a post-Mandela nation?’
The news of Nelson Mandela’s passing on the 5th December defined the end of an era. As the tributes poured in from leaders around the world, millions of people around the world joined in expressions of sadness at Madiba’s death and in celebrating his life. In South Africa, people gathered outside Mandela’s home in Houghton, Johannesburg and at dozens of other locations across the country. In the UK, South Africa House – site of the anti-apartheid Non-Stop Picket from 1986 to 1990 (which is the subject of a fascinating research project by Gavin Brown and Helen Yaffe at Leicester University) – and Madiba’s statue in Parliament Square in London became loci for expatriate South Africans and citizens of many other nations to congregate and pay their respects. As the queue of those waiting to leave their message in the books of condolence at South Africa House lengthened the mood was both sombre and celebratory. Groups of South Africans and former anti-apartheid activists broke into renditions of struggle songs and the new national anthem. Tears were shed, hugs shared between strangers and a sense of unity and strength pervaded the crowd. All the while, press from around the world recorded the growing shrine of flowers, candles, flags, sports jerseys and messages of condolence.
The interactions and emotions evident outside South Africa House embodied many of the values espoused by Mandela. In the midst of the shared memories and solidarity, a number of concerns and questions – spoken and unspoken – remained: now that Madiba, the dignified statesman and moral colossus, was gone what would the future bring? The oft-voiced refrain, captured succinctly by an Asian-South African, was “We have lost a great leader. Now we just have the shit that remains”. For many South Africans and commentators, the role-call of post-Mandela political leaders has failed to live up to his legacy. Instead, the ANC leadership is viewed as increasingly out-of-touch with the daily realities facing the majority of South Africans and intent, instead, on lining their own nests. Concerns over Mbeki’s HIV/AIDS denialism and failures in service delivery, and more recent allegations of corruption and impropriety against Jacob Zuma underscore the disquiet with post-apartheid development. This disquiet stems, in part, from a growing sense of inequality and of development favouring a small, privileged elite. Indeed, since the end of apartheid, levels of inequality in South Africa have increased: in 1995, South Africa’s GINI coefficient stood at 56.6, by 2006 this had risen to 67.4 before falling back slightly to 63.1 in 2009. Challenges to health care, education, social service, housing, sanitation, water, electrification and other provisions are legion, and provide a potential basis for social unrest. Pessimists would argue that with the passing of Madiba, and the stability his presence appeared to afford, there is an increased likelihood of protest and division.
In other words, with the power and charisma of Mandela – the champion behind which the new South Africa rallied and was forged – gone, what would the future hold for the rainbow nation? These questions have long been debated. The insightful comments of Alex Beresford (Politics, Leeds) in providing commentary to the BBC’s coverage of Mandela’s death suggest that many of the fears of political regression in South Africa are ill-founded. There is a strong civil society and free press that can and does hold the state to account, but even this fourth estate has come under increasing pressure in recent years. The passing of the Protection of State Information Bill on to the Statute Books in 2011 triggered extensive complaints and criticism within the South African press, and beyond. This Bill, commonly known as the Secrecy Bill, is viewed by critics as providing the government with a means of prosecuting and persecuting whistle-blowers and the functioning of the free press in seeking to speak truth to power and uncovering corruption. Meanwhile, relations between the state and civil society are often tense due to competing perspective on the role of civil society, as well as strategic engagements by the ANC government with certain civil society organisations in order to control and demobilise leftist organisations. Clearly, the role of the press and of civil society will remain vital in the post-Mandela period.
Further concerns remain in relation to the extent of democracy in South Africa. The threats made by ANC cadre and MK veterans against democratic institutions during Zuma’s court cases for rape (acquitted) and fraud (charges dropped) indicate continued challenges to the entrenching of these institutions in popular consciousness. The continued electoral dominance of the ANC, despite the efforts of the Democratic Alliance (and, at the last election, the newly formed COPE), contribute to ongoing concerns that South Africa is developing into a de facto one-party state. Of great interest moving forward will be the campaigning strategies of parties at the next election and narratives of nationhood and citizenship deployed therein. The emergence of two new parties to challenge the ANC at the 2014 elections – Anang, founded by Mamphela Ramphele, the former partner of Black Consciousness icon Steve Biko, and Economic Freedom Fighters, founded by former ANC-Youth League Leader Julius Malema – may alter the dynamics of domestic politics and disrupt the ANC’s political domination.
Despite these concerns, civil society remains vibrant, progress is being made towards improving service delivery (although not as quickly as many would like) and the independent press continues to function freely as the fourth estate. Perhaps most encouraging of all has been the ways in which South Africans have joined together to commemorate and celebrate Madiba’s life. Let us hope that this legacy – of unity and reconciliation – remains, that the images of collectivity and solidarity witnessed in recent days remain and serve to reinvigorate and inspire a concerted commitment to equality and development within South Africa.
Hamba kahle tata.
All images sourced with permission from Dan Hammett.