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Mandela’s dream derailed

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Picture: Duif Du Toit/African News Agency(ANA)/Taken on May 10, 1994 – From left, FW De Klerk, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki hold hands at the South African Presidential Inauguration at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa.

By Bheki Mngomezulu

On May 10, 1994, Nelson Mandela delivered his reconciliatory inaugural speech outside the Union Buildings – something that had never been done by a black person before. As he did so, he was oozing with confidence and optimism about the future of this country.

When he began his historic address, Mandela averred: “Today, all of us do, by our presence here, and by our celebrations in other parts of our country and the world, confer glory and hope to newborn liberty.”

Continuing with what turned out to be a short but powerful speech, which captured various themes, Mandela described his inauguration as marking a new phase in the country’s beleaguered past. He described the moment as the time to build the country as a collective. He pleaded with his fellow South Africans to bury all their previous differences which had pitted them against one another. These differences had been created by race, class, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation and many other such related factors.

Oblivious to what the country would later descend into, Mandela subscribed to the ANC’s culture of speaking in the plural and made the following promise: “We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.”

Little did he know that these are the very social ills that would dent the country’s political image. Moreover, it did not dawn in Mandela that some of his comrades would renege on the promise they had made for decades that they would put their lives on the line for the sake of their people. Mandela did not anticipate that compassion and empathy which characterised the liberation struggle would dwindle and eventually dissipate like dews when the sun rises.

Concluding his address, Mandela reiterated his justifiable optimism about South Africa and stated the following: “The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement.” With these words, Mandela exited the podium to a rousing sound and applause by the delegates who had come to witness history in the making.

With these words, Mandela instilled hope in a nation that had been destroyed by apartheid for decades and was turning a new page in its life. He looked forward to better things to come under the Government of National Unity (GNU) over which he presided.

Against this backdrop, a few questions arise: to what extent has South Africa lived Mandela’s dream? In other words, has Mandela’s dream been kept alive or has it disappeared? Has the political leadership liberated the country from the bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender, and other discrimination which Mandela lamented or have these been retained and given more impetus? Have politicians continued to give to the people as Mandela had envisaged or are they taking from them and milking them empty? Importantly, has the sun not set on so glorious a human achievement as Mandela had dreamt in 1994?

Surely, there is no straight answer to these questions. The reason is simple, some strides have been made since 1994 to better the lives of the people of South Africa. Some rural areas that never dreamt of ever having access to electricity and running water have seen their pessimism being reversed. Many people who either lived in the shacks or slept outside buildings have been able to get shelter. Chapter 9 institutions and many others have been established to ensure that democratic consolidation becomes a reality.

But while all these achievements are verifiable, the reality is that the country has regressed immensely! In other words, Mandela’s dream has been derailed. In many areas, the country is not doing well. A chronological analysis of the chain of events will buttress this assertion.

Firstly, Mandela was optimistic that the GNU would last since it was the foundation of the resolve to achieve reconciliation and unity. On May 8, 1996, the new Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Act 108) was adopted by the National Assembly.

A day later, FW de Klerk, who was the second Deputy President after Thabo Mbeki, announced that his National Party was pulling out of the GNU. This decision came into effect on June 30, 1996. De Klerk’s decision ignited the fire that would dampen and later extinguish the reconciliatory and optimistic spirit Mandela had infused in his maiden speech.

Other processes followed. These included the split into two of the National Party resulting in the formation of the New National Party (NNP), the formation of the United Democratic Movement by General Bantu Holomisa, the formation of the Democratic Alliance and many such developments. The unity that Mandela had envisaged in his speech tumbled.

Things were to get worse following the decision by the ANC to recall President Thabo Mbeki and the subsequent formation of the Congress of the People (COPE) by Terror Lekota and Mbazima Shilowa. COPE was established out of disgruntlement, not as a result of policy differences as was the case with the formation of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in 1959.

While these and other developments are important, of critical importance in this article is to look at the calibre of leaders and how they have wittingly and unwittingly derailed Mandela’s dream.

Mandela saw his inauguration as the time to build the country. Instead, the country has been (and is still being) destroyed in various ways. Political intolerance has resulted in intra-party and inter-party assassinations. This is caused by political greed and a weak moral compass. If a leader does not have what it takes to win a position, the elimination of a political competitor becomes the best option. In the process, murderers become leaders. Leadership deficit reigns.

As if that is not enough, those leaders who ascend to power by climbing on the corpses engage in corrupt activities. They do this knowing that anyone who questions their activities does that at his or her own peril. In the process, people are dying in silence.

Mandela had promised that he, together with his comrades, would strive to liberate the people of South Africa from the bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender, and other discrimination.

With the benefit of hindsight, one can categorically state that this dream has not been fulfilled. The triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment continue to dominate party manifestos in each election. The governing party promises to do more to address them. Opposition political parties use these as their campaign tool and promise to address them once and for all if they were to receive the mandate to govern.

Deprivation and suffering are caused by leadership failures, not lack of money to address these issues. Reports of money getting stolen by leaders and their accomplices dominate the media space. The tender system has made government a joke while enriching a few. In the process, the masses of South Africans suffer from deprivation.

Addressing gender discrimination remains work in progress. Gender-based violence has become a curse to the nation. This is not something that Mandela had envisaged. Part of the reason is that on many occasions, perpetrators walk free due to several reasons. At times the police stumble when collecting evidence. In certain instances, judges fail to apply the law. In other cases, potential witnesses refuse to testify – fearing for their own lives. In the process, justice is not served and victims lose faith in the entire justice system.

Mandela’s last words in his inaugural address that “The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement” have come to nothing. Contrary to his belief, the sun has set. Realities such as trust deficit, leadership deficit, fear to speak the truth, and many such common but obviously unpalatable developments have won the day.

Patronage has become a dominant factor – both in the public and private sectors. The sad thing is that even a reputable institution like Parliament has fallen prey to this pandemic. Politicians are not shy to worship an individual even at the expense of the political parties that brought them to Parliament in the first place or the country they claim to serve. This is a disgrace!

Had Mandela known that things would change in this manner, he would have probably toned down on his optimism. But context is always critical. Knowing how much he and other cadres had sacrificed for the country, Mandela lived under the illusion that the current crop of leaders would emulate their predecessors. Sadly, this is not the case.

Moreover, Mandela had in mind the vibrant civil society that united against apartheid epitomised by the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM). He did not envisage a time when the masses would be bought by corrupt politicians and collude with them for their self-aggrandisement. This is a shame!

Based on this analysis, three things stand out. First, Mandela had high hopes about a liberated South Africa as evidenced in his inauguration address. Second, he had confidence in his comrades. Third, his dream has been derailed by his comrades and civil society.