In the nearly three decades since the dawn of democracy, Nelson Mandela has been revered for his contribution and leadership in the struggle against apartheid. Supporters have idealised his mission, but there are troubling signs that Madiba’s legacy is fading.
When Nelson Mandela addressed the nation from the Union Buildings on 10 May 1994, he said South Africa would rise “out of an extraordinary human disaster” to become “a society of which all humanity will be proud”.
On many important fronts, this ideal has evaded us all. The recurrent protests, pervasive poverty and simmering tension indicate that Madiba’s legacy is fading. It has become far too apparent that respect for this legacy is diminishing, from the highest echelon of government to the ordinary citizens on the streets. This is clear by several indications.
The nation-building project is being eroded.
It is evident that cracks are beginning to appear in the facade of the multicultural society that Madiba himself had idealised. Such cracks are being exploited, perhaps even furthered, by populist politicians. Think Julius Malema, the likes of whom have made concerted efforts to feed on preexisting divisions within the nation.
This became all the more apparent to me in the build-up to last year’s elections, when supporters of his party refused to recite certain lines of the National Anthem. I subsequently witnessed a replication of this defiance in several different settings. The idealised multicultural society is being eroded with the steady rise of factions within society. Madiba’s legacy of reconciliation is fading.
The state has failed its people.
Despite the government’s repeated attempts to convince us to believe that it is committed to achieving the ideals set out by the founders of our democracy, its track record paints a starkly different reality. This is evident in the poverty that is far too apparent to ignore (and worsening), the sky-high unemployment rate and numerous factors that depict a society in shambles. On this account, it is clear that Madiba’s legacy is fading since his successors abandoned his ideals for personal gain.
The ordinary man doesn’t care.
As the world observed International Mandela Day on Monday (18 July), it came as no surprise that talk shows and news were all about Mandela Day. That’s fair enough because I had been on the ground to capture ordinary citizens’ thoughts. What I found on the streets of Johannesburg was a real surprise.
More people than not outright refused to share their thoughts because – as they themselves said – they couldn’t care less. One could only wonder what made the nation apathetic towards Madiba’s legacy, not forgetting to mention the apathy at the polls in last year’s Municipal Elections.
To deny the signs that Madiba’s legacy is fading would be to deny that an imminent threat to reconciliation is on the horizon. South African society would degenerate into commotion which will be the death of us if the legacy is so readily abandoned. What this country desperately needs is the elimination of demagogues and an awakening to the reality that our success as a nation depends on our unity.
Together, we can achieve greatness.