National hero, icon, Nobel Peace Prize winner. Ten years ago (December 5, 2013) South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela died. It has been almost 30 years since Tata Madiba, as South Africans affectionately call him, freed his country from the racist oppression of the apartheid regime and led it to democracy. The world celebrated with South Africa, full of hope for a better future.
As the first democratically elected president of South Africa, Mandela founded the Rainbow Nation with the vision of a rule of law, with equal opportunities as the basis of an inclusive society. He wanted solid education for everyone, good healthcare and decent jobs. The national interest should be above all else.
But today there is hardly anything left of the former freedom fighter's legacy. "If Mandela were here today, he would be very disappointed with the current situation in the country," says sociologist Roger Southall from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. "He would say the government has lost its way."
End of the Rainbow Vision
Mandela's party, the African National Congress (ANC), which has ruled with an absolute majority since 1994, has systematically run down the country with its 62 million inhabitants over three decades. Poverty, unemployment and crime are constantly increasing. The education and health systems are crumbling. The government is consumed by corruption, nepotism and incompetence. State-owned companies go bankrupt. An ever-increasing budget deficit is also contributing to the economic crisis.
"Mandela's dream is in deep crisis. His ideas of a non-racist society that cares for everyone and leaves no one behind have failed. We have taken steps backwards at every level," says William Gumede, chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation. This is shown, for example, by the high youth unemployment rate of more than 60 percent.
Mandela was president for five years. In 1999 he voluntarily did not stand for re-election in order to make room for party colleagues. He was a democrat with heart and soul. Looking back, South Africans doubt this was a bad decision. Because with Mandela's resignation, things went downhill politically and economically.
His successor, Thabo Mbeki, denied that the immunodeficiency virus HIV was the causative agent of AIDS and did not allow AIDS medications to be used in South Africa. According to a Harvard study, an estimated 330,000 South Africans died as a result and around 35,000 babies were preventably born with HIV.
After Mbeki came Jacob Zuma (2009-2018), whose name became synonymous with the term "state capture", the exploitation of the state through abuse of power. Zuma has been in court repeatedly in recent years. The 81-year-old is accused of corruption, money laundering and fraud worth billions. He faces up to 25 years in prison. However, the trial against Zuma has been repeatedly postponed to date.
Systematic undermining of the state
When Cyril Ramaphosa took over the presidency in 2018, there was initially great hope that the 71-year-old would follow in Mandela's footsteps and right the ANC's mistakes. But it quickly became clear that the reform-oriented Ramaphosa lacked decision-making power in the powerful ANC structure. He too was unable to put an end to self-enrichment within the party.
In his book "After Dawn", former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas (2014-2016) describes South Africa as a country that is being systematically destroyed by the government elite: "Political rents continue to be extracted, corruption is rampant, functionality is rampant and legitimacy of the state continue to decline, investor confidence and thus the investment volume are dwindling, the economy is stagnating, unemployment is rising, and with the unequal distribution of income and wealth, social tensions are also increasing. Instead of promoting inclusive economic growth, the governing party is seeking salvation in populism, writes Jonas.
Jakkie Cilliers, political analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in the capital Pretoria, also agrees: "The ANC has done significant damage to the country. It's a tragedy. South Africa is in a deep crisis."
South Africa's biggest problem is no longer black versus white, but growing economic injustice. According to the World Bank, it is the country with the largest gap between rich and poor in the world. The “Black Diamonds”, millionaire black entrepreneurs and politicians, are among the wealthiest in the country. On the other hand, the high youth unemployment mainly affects black people.
Mandela remains an ace up his sleeve
So far, South Africans' frustration and disappointment have hardly been reflected in the election results. The ANC has ruled with an absolute majority since 1994. That could change in the elections in mid-2024. Although the ANC is likely to continue to govern, it will probably have to form coalitions with smaller parties for the first time, analysts say.
South Africans have so far found it difficult to realistically assess the work of the Liberation Party. "The ANC is unable to implement Mandela's vision. The longer the ANC is in power, the more it destroys Mandela's legacy," says Gumede. "We have no choice but to hope that the opposition adopts Mandela's vision."
Nevertheless, Mandela remains the ace up his sleeve. In the country itself, but also at the international level, the government continues to rely on the almost inviolable image of the father of the nation. Mandela is cleverly brought out of the drawer as a showpiece whenever it is useful, for example to impress investors, explains Southall.
Although all political indicators in South Africa are red, people continue to meet on an equal footing and many people still turn a blind eye. It is as if the world desperately wants to cling to the belief that South Africa is the most progressive country on the continent, the flagship of Africa, that there is political will for reform and innovation. "The truth is that Mandela's ideals have not been taken into account for a long time," says Southall.
South Africa has so much potential: Rich in diamonds, gold, platinum, manganese and uranium, the country has enormous growth opportunities. The private sector is robust, as is the institutional system. “Unfortunately, the ANC does not want to invest in real growth drivers such as good infrastructure, education and healthcare to create an innovative, incentive-oriented population,” says Cilliers.
There is only one thing left: the hope that another Mandela will emerge from the ANC in the near future - or at least an ambitious politician who puts the well-being of the people above self-interest.