Mandela has been mourned across the world, his heroic words and deeds did far more than help end the racist apartheid system, his calm influence perhaps prevented a bloody civil war. So as Madiba has been laid to rest, it is time to much of his legacy is shown in the material reality of the majority of South Africans? How much of his exemplary politics are reflected in the ANC of today?
When Mandela came into power, he promised housing for all South Africans. It is now 19 years after this promise, the ANC admit that the number of South Africans still living in shack settlements has barely changed since 1994. The biggest social movement in South Africa,Abahlali baseMjondolo, (residents of the shacks), grew out of the frustration and indignity of still living without housing, electricity, water and toilets. It was born out of anger that, despite Mandela and the ANC promising that land would be shared, only about 7% of previously white owned commercial land has been transferred and still 67% of the land is primarily white owned commercial land, whilst only 15% is farmed by black farmers. This fact could contribute to an explanation of why Mugabe was cheered and Zuma was booed on Tuesday.
Mandela and the ANC of his day, created the Freedom Charter as a radical, democratic and enduring document enshrining South Africa’s commitment to equality, dignity and liberation. However inequality has risen greatly in the new South Africa making it in 2012, the most unequal country in the world. Equality of all national groups is fundamental to the Charter. In KwaZulu-Natal, the heartland of Abahlali, xenophobia is an endemic problem, as people from other regions face constant harassment and victimisation. They are told to return to their provinces and are denied housing.
A central part of the anti-apartheid struggle was the revolutionary idea that “the people shall govern”, yet autonomous movements of the people like Abahlali are being violently silenced. As recently as October, they have faced brutal repression including having members as young as 17, shot by the police, arrests, death threats and torture forcing many of their leaders to live clandestinely. Their crime appears to be that they still hold Mandela’s vision of equality, dignity, freedom and that the people shall rule themselves. There were striking parallels between the discrimination they faced by the police for being poor shack-dwellers and when the violent discrimination enforced under apartheid to black South Africans. The lack of prosecution of police who attack and kill Abahlali members suggest that they are not treated as equal before the law.
This time of global mourning must be used to reflect beyond the visions and ideals of Mandela to the realities people face in South Africa. It is time to realise the gross disparities that remain in South Africa and a time to show that, for the majority of South Africans, their long walk to freedom is far from over.