Nelson Mandela: An epitome for Peace
Ishmael Theletsane“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” Nelson Mandela.
Although Nelson Mandela is seen by many as the champion of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, many heroes, for decades, fought for the same cause. But Mandela’s legacy and his selfless character will stand uniquely uncompromised for generations to come.
What did Nelson Mandela stand for? He epitomized many more things that can be covered in a short article such as, inter alia, professionalism, peace and reconciliation. He is regarded as the most prominent figure in South Africa and one of the shapers of world history. He personifies the narrative of the righteous struggle against the apartheid system, as well as the supposed miracle of racial reconciliation. Today’s South Africa is different than its pre-1994 version. It has a strong constitution, a multiparty government, a growing black middle class, freedom of the press, stable and vital democratic freedoms and a growing economy.
Nelson Mandela took a country that was divided and at the brink of civil war and turned it into what is today known as the rainbow nation. Mandela inherited, inter alia, a poor economy, 19 disparate education departments, a divided society and many defense forces and he succeeded in integrating all of these into one institution. Mandela tackled this difficult task with strong leadership and charisma, thereby rising above all of these challenges. He also contributed to many peace talks around Africa.
Nelson Mandela will be remembered for his ability and inclination to promote and defend the Constitution, and uphold the well-being of all South Africans. But, what does the future hold for a South Africa without Mandela?
Many in the media are claiming Mandela’s death leaves South Africans wondering about their future. This is not so. Institutions are bigger than individuals. Leaders like Mandela are meant to provide the overall direction and when he left office, others with institutional knowhow took over. He left South Africa on a solid foundation; hence, the country will continue to be a rainbow nation although it will never again have a president like Mandela.
Undoubtedly, South Africa is not without a number of social and moral challenges. Additionally, the economic woes for ordinary citizens are not abating. Social inequality has embarrassingly widened since the end of apartheid. There is escalating unemployment and poverty has become endemic, almost irreversible. Research shows since 1994, the number of South Africans living on less than a dollar a day has doubled, as has the number of millionaires. The gaping disparity between the rich and poor is a sad indictment on a government that has been in power since the onset of constitutional democracy. Today, South Africa is considered one of the most unequal states in the world by most measures. Race still defines inequality, despite the fact that inequality among blacks has also grown.
While the inequalities created by the apartheid system over many decades cannot be tackled only over the course of 20 years; the slow pace of change is a concern.
Albeit, there are some positive milestones. The government should be credited for a massive public housing construction scheme. However, most new housing and suburbs are still built far from city centers, or next to existing racially segregated townships. There is also an increase in a number of nationwide violent protests, police brutality, crime and other social ills. This is not what Mandela stood for and fought for. Madiba struggled for all types of freedoms, in the belief that people are not free if they go to bed hungry, if they are unemployed, if their children receive poor education, if their streets are not safe, if women and children are abused and if their freedom of expression has been suppressed. This is Nelson Mandela’s legacy that his successors are called upon to build on.
“It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul. What a great soul it was. We will miss him deeply. May God bless the memory of Nelson Mandela.” Barack Obama.
Ishmael Theletsane, Stellenbosch University; Visiting Fellow, Kadir Has University