Only a dream for South Africa

This Feb. 11 will mark 20 years since Nelson Mandela’s “march to freedom” out of Robben Island’s Victor Verster prison where he spent the better part of 27 years incarcerated.

Mandela walked through Cape Town, addressing a crowd of 50,000 from the balcony of city hall in 1990. He called the march to freedom “irreversible,” but two decades after Mandela’s promises, South Africa still struggles with his vision of the “rainbow nation,” a vision which though not reversible, progresses at a slow pace.

When the opportunity arose for voting equality between April 26 and 29, 1994, the white rule that had held South Africa since 1948 was dismantled and the African National Congress (ANC) was victorious. Mandela was subsequently inaugurated on May 10.

However, the legacy of apartheid lives on in the lack of education, increased violent crime, extreme inequality and poverty and social disruption still visible throughout the country.

South Africa’s transition to a relatively peaceful and democratic state could have been bloodier. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which began in 1995 under instruction from Archbishop Desmond Tutu and later President Mandela, helped bridge the gap between victims and perpetrators of the violence of apartheid. Though contested, the TRC granted amnesty in exchange for full accounts and admissions to crimes committed during South Africa’s turmoil.
The country’s transformation into the “rainbow nation” was underway.

However, there were still marks left on South Africa by apartheid, including land distribution. The BBC reported that despite the fact that most farmland was owned by a white minority and land has been distributed so far on a “willing buyer, willing seller” basis, the government aims to transfer 30 per cent of farmland to the black South African majority by 2014.

The struggle for equality for all South Africans did not end with Mandela, despite how hard he tried to create the “rainbow nation” he had envisioned. Apartheid’s hold on the economy, politics and society was too strong to be diminished by the first leader of the ANC.

Thabo Mbeki succeeded Mandela, but his term was riddled with criticism and disruption within the ANC. Many accused the leader of being too close to the elites of the nation and said he ignored those Mandela wanted to liberate.

Perhaps the most contentious component of Mbeki’s leadership was his mandate regarding the HIV epidemic. Though 5.7 million South Africans are infected with the virus, Mbeki’s reaction to HIV proliferation was less than stellar.

Mbeki publicly questioned the accuracy of HIV tests and said that antiretroviral drugs “poisoned” people, among other contentious statements by him and his cabinet. Throughout the rest of his term, he refused to comment on the subject.

From 2004 to 2008, South Africa basked in macroeconomic stability. The growth of the nation economically and politically, however, led to some failures in infrastructure that demonstrated the fragility of its economic and social growth. The country experienced electricity shortages in 2007, and by 2008 the global financial crisis led to a two per cent decrease in GDP.

Tensions have been especially heightened since this period. The spring of 2008 and the summer of 2009 saw attacks on migrant workers and township protests respectively. Both events have been linked to poverty and unemployment.

Today, the leadership of President Jacob Zuma, the third ANC leader, is not leaving a much better legacy than that of Mbeki. Elected in May of last year, although he has vowed to tackle the HIV epidemic, Zuma just recently admitted to fathering a child out of wedlock and has come under criticism for practicing polygamy.

Great strides have been made to complete Mandela’s vision of the “rainbow nation” since his release from prison in 1990. However, the events over the past 20 years point towards his vision for South Africa being but a dream for a future of equality and poverty reduction.

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