Just last year, South Africa celebrated 20 years of transition to a democratic rule. It was a time of celebration as much as a time for reflection and healing all over again. Mandela did the unprecedented when he laid the foundation for a new South Africa, the Rainbow nation. That was meant to legitimise the multiplicity of races that would see the modern South Africa as a home for all without discrimination on the basis of skin colour.
Today, that foundation is being threatened. It took one man, Mandela to take a stance that shook the whole world and remains in the annals of history as one of the most remarkable decision to be made by man. It is expected that as Mandela left the stage, the subsequent leaders, the different races and the entire South African people would work together to build on that momentous foundation that Mandela laid for his people.
I don’t want to over simplify what is at stake here. I know there are lots of complexities in building a nation such as South Africa with the kind of history it has. My expectations, however, is that the sacrifices Mandela, his comrades and others made would be enough motivation for subsequent leaders and indeed South Africans to continue from Mandela stopped. The last 20 years have not been exactly a smooth sail for the Rainbow Nation, but one would expect that the underlining issues would remain at the forefront of national discourse and engagement.
It looks as if the recent leaders do not appreciate the enormity of the challenges before them, and the propensity for this to exacerbate. On one hand, there is the lingering effect of long years of subjugation and oppression of the majority. When a people live under those conditions for such a long period of time, they do not just suffer economic disempowerment, they equally suffer psychological damage. Black South Africans are still grappling with the psychological effect of apartheid, and pitifully will continue to do so for a long time if the leaders do not realign their priorities.
Just to buttress the point above, whenever a people are being oppressed as South Africans were, just like our forebears during slavery, they look for ways to relieve the pressure as a survival strategy. In the case of South Africans, most of the young people found that in sex and drugs. And wherever you have these combination on the high, crime is simply a corollary. Research has shown that South Africa has the largest crime database in the world. It is also reputed for being the rape capital of the world. While efforts are being made to address these serious problems which are simply the symptoms, the remote cause and other underlining issues are yet to be thoroughly dealt with.
On the other hand, in all fairness, the aftermath of apartheid has not being all gloom. For one, there is evidence of physical and structural development that even the largest economy in Africa does not have. The health care, educational, transportation systems and other infrastructural developments which South Africa can boast of today are not found in majority of other African countries. Some people are already expressing concern that the new managers may not be able to manage, sustain and improve on these infrastructures, which are part of the legacies of apartheid regimes. This does not in any way make up for some of the pressing challenges facing modern South Africa.
South Africa’s current housing deficit stands at about 2.1 million to 2.5 million units, affecting about 12 million people; youth unemployment is still a challenge; the widening gap between the poor and the rich even in the face of programmes such as the Black Economic Empowerment is still astounding; HIV/AIDS prevalence; incidence of teenage pregnancy, are some of the serious challenges still confronting the Rainbow nation. In the light of this reality, you have the privileged class insisting on maintaining their status, and the disadvantaged class looking for new ways to relieve their anger. The fear of racial and xenophobic attacks is still palpable, evident in recent reports of attacks and anti-xenophobic protest that held in Durban and some other places.
Just recently a Zulu King made an utterance about the influx of foreigners into South Africa. That has now triggered a new wave of xenophobic attacks on especially foreigners of African extraction. Messages have been going round since then warning of massive attacks against foreigners in parts of South Africa. If foreigners are constituting a nuisance for the country, there are better ways to curtail that. I think this new wave of attacks is a manifestation of the psychological effect of apartheid as well as the structural imbalance that still exists.
There is also the recent protest by the students of the University of Cape Town (UCT) who feel assaulted by the sight of the statue of Rhodes on their campus. To my mind, the #RhodesMustFall movement is just a tiny portion of a bigger issue that the country will be dealing with in time to come. The students are beginning to extend the debates to the racial composition of their academic staff, and the structure of some of their curricula.
There are some fundamental challenges before the new leaders of modern South Africa. There is still a need for spiritual and psychological healing, value re-orientation, bridging the income inequality gap, consolidating on the inherited structural developments, among others. And these must be seen as a collective responsibility. Everybody must be prepared to make sacrifices and compromises. Those still on their high horses must come down, and those still crawling and wallowing in the wrong of the past must stand up, so they can join hands and work side by side to build a prosperous and egalitarian South Africa.
Some of the pertinent questions we need to ask are: How should identity be constructed or reconstructed in modern South Africa? How should our shared humanity be perceived amidst racial differences? Where is the place of history, and how do we start writing a new one? The sacrifice for a truly modern and democratic South Africa did not and cannot end with Mandela. His legacy and personal sacrifice should spur this generation to make the right choices. All must work together to truly heal and then we can build on the legacy of this global icon, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, and other dead and living heroes of Democratic South Africa.
Frederick Adetiba is with Premium Times and currently a graduate student at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.