What Now for South Africa?
It is half a decade since Nelson Mandela passed away on 5 December 2013. Mandela’s death did not so much shock the world; he was 90 at the time of his passing and had spent much of the final two years of his life privately battling illnesses.
Yet his death and the celebrations of his life that followed reverberated around the globe in a manner like few others, with his funeral a few days later surpassing even a royal wedding in its international prominence and ability to attract dignitaries from around the globe.
Nelson Mandela was without a doubt a giant of the 20th Century, and whilst the whole world mourned him, his loss was felt most deeply in South Africa. As the nation’s first truly democratically elected president, and first black president, Mandela, through his activism, imprisonment and presidency came to embody South Africa’s struggle against apartheid and its genesis after the end of apartheid.
For these reasons we decided to look at South Africa since Mandela, and how the nation has fared in carving a future for itself since the death of its charismatic president.
South Africa is seen by many as a nation struggling to forge a new identity. This is seen most acutely in the fortunes of the African National Congress (ANC) political party in recent years. The ANC, which has dominated post-Apartheid South African politics and been its sole party of government since the end of apartheid, has been rocked in recent years by corruption scandals and dwindling popularity at the polls ever since their first election win in 1994. The country’s increasing cynicism towards the party has probably best been exemplified when one of Nelson Mandela’s grandchildren announced that she would no longer be voting for the ANC.
The country has also suffered its share of social problems, in terms of high unemployment rates, a lack of effective infrastructure and endemic violence. While the end of apartheid has seen the development of a new and thriving black middle class, there still remains a significant social and economic chasm between white and black South Africans.
All of these factors have led many to argue that the initial dream of ending apartheid has died, and that there is little hope for South Africa. This, however, is not a view shared by us. South Africa is without a doubt a country with its fair share of political problems, but as the last few years of global politics have shown us, what country hasn’t? One asset South Africa has is an entire generation who through their struggle against apartheid are uniquely civically engaged and passionate about fighting to carve out a more equitable, just and prosperous nation. It is this experience and the knowledge and lessons from it being passed down to the younger generation of South Africans which make this country uniquely positioned to face these challenges head on.