Saturday, 7 December 2013

Nelson Mandela: The Challenge of Freedom (1994-2013)

The second of a two-part study of Nelson Mandela's life, work and legacy by Rachel Boylin. This was originally written as a PGS Extend essay in the summer of 2013.

Queues for voting in South Africa's first multi racial election, in 1994.

On the 11th February 1990, Mandela was freed. The picture of him walking out of prison with his wife has become one of the most iconic images of Nelson Mandela’s life and was a moment that brought great hope to millions of South Africans, that their struggle was almost over.                                                   
While in prison, it is said that Mandela built up his character and through his intelligence and dignified defiance he won over prison guards and took natural leadership of the other political prisoners. When he was finally released he was a charismatic leader who was capable of winning an election that helped create his vision of a new democratic South Africa.

“Although few people will remember 3 June 1993, it was a landmark in South African History”. In his book Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela recalls that after much negotiating, the date was set for the first one person, one vote multi racial election in South Africa. On the 27th April 1994, Mandela walked into a polling station and, at the age of 76, cast the first vote of his life.
He wrote, “The images of South African’s going to the polls that day are burned into my memory. Great lines of patient people snaking through the dirt roads and streets of towns and cities; old women who had waited half a century to cast their first vote saying that they felt like human beings for the first time in their lives; white men and women saying that they were proud to live in a free country at last”.

In the first national election, the ANC polled 62.6% of the vote and they qualified for 252 seats out of 400 in the national assembly. Mandela was sworn in as President on the 10th May, 1994. The ceremony was attended by four thousand guests and was televised to billions of people around the world. Mandela became the first black president of South Africa and became head of a ‘Government of National Unity’. Although this was dominated by the ANC it contained representatives from the National Party and the Inkatha Freedom Party.
 In his inauguration speech Mandela said, “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us. We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.

We succeeded to take our last steps to freedom in conditions of relative peace. We commit ourselves to the construction of a complete, just and lasting peace. We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
He understood the suffering that the South African people had been though and promised them that they would get the freedoms that they had waited for, for so long now he had become president.

Mandela saw reconciliation as being one of the most important tasks of his Presidency. Mandela encouraged South Africans to get behind the South African rugby team, the Springboks, that had previously been hated before the 1995 Rugby World Cup as a symbol of apartheid. When South Africa won, Mandela presented the trophy to the captain Francois Pienaar, an Afrikaner, wearing Pienaar’s number on his back. The step was seen as a huge reconciliation move between blacks and whites.

A meeting of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions

Mandela also oversaw the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This was created to investigate crimes that happened under apartheid. The hearings of the commission started in 1996 and the final report was issued in 1998. Tackling domestic issue was another task for Mandela during his Presidency. Mandela had become president of a country which was hugely divided and where there was huge disparity between blacks and whites. In 1998, out of 40 million people, 23 million lacked electricity or adequate sanitation, 12 million lacked clean water supplies, and 2 million children were not in school. A third of the population was illiterate; unemployment was at 33% and just under half the population lived below the poverty line. These were all issues that Mandela had to deal with.

During his Presidency, Mandela increased welfare spending and increased grants for disabled people, children and old age pensioners. Free healthcare was introduced for pregnant women and children under the age of six. By the 1999 elections, the ANC could say that their policies and leadership meant that 1.5 million children had been brought into education, 3 million people were connected to a telephone line, 750,000 houses had been constructed and access to water was now available to 3 million more people. Not all was good though. Mandela was criticised for not doing enough to tackle HIV or high crime rates. In 1999 10% of South Africans were infected with HIV and South Africa had one of the highest crime rates in the world. Mandela was also being said to be ‘soft’ on corruption. Mandela stepped down as the ANC President at their December conference in 1997 and as he had never planned on running for a second term, he gave his Farwell speech as President on 29th March 1999.

Tackling the problem of poor housing was a
major focus of Mandela's government. However,
many people are still trapped in shanty towns.

It is now nineteen years since Nelson Mandela became President and the vision for South Africa that he and the ANC set out so many years ago has been partially achieved. In many ways South Africa has become a freer more democratic nation. Apartheid has been abolished and the racist legislation has gone. Both black and white South Africans now have access to the same opportunities and the same freedoms. The ANC is still in power and the loyalty to it from millions of South Africans remains as strong as it did 19 years ago. As well as this, many people now have access to clean water and better living conditions. Between 1996 and 2010, the number of people who lived on $2 a day went from 12% to 5%. Changes have been made and large parts of Nelson Mandela’s vision, particularly the removal of apartheid, have been achieved.

However, many South Africans today feel let down by the ANC and have not had the quality of life that they had been promised in 1994. Since the taking of power by the ANC, the wealth gap has become more apparent. There were a small number of blacks who became particularly wealthy with the removal of apartheid; however, many people still live in shanty towns and poverty.

Politics, as it has been for centuries in South Africa, is still bloody. Between 2007 and 2012, 40 politicians were killed in one province in the north – east of the country, in disputes which are predominantly over money. Even after so many years of democracy and black majority rule, South Africa is still one of the most unequal countries in the world, and the situation is getting worse.

Despite considerable spending there have been very little advances made in education. There has been a huge failure in the Government’s ability to educate in particularly young black South Africans. South Africa is ranked 132nd out of 144 countries for its basic primary education according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. Resources are poor for children. Only 20% of schools have libraries and only 7.5% have textbooks.
The standard of teaching is low and there is a massive shortage of teachers. As well as being a waste of talent of the young children, it also represents a huge waste of money. Since 1995, South Africa has spent around 6% of its GDP on education. Many people have criticised how much money has been spent on education with such little improvement made.

One of South Africa's gated communities,
for wealthy families who can afford the private security.

South Africa also still has one of the highest crime rates in the world and serious crimes such as rape and murder seem to be embedded in gang culture. In response, rich families who can afford it, have gates, razor wire fences around their houses and security officers. Huge numbers of people who can’t afford security go unprotected. This has introduced a new form of elitism and will only increase further the gap that is already seen between poor and rich South Africans. It is possible that this may lead to ‘private armies’ being formed and vigilantes. The Government recognises the dangers of law and order being controlled outside of Government and is drafting legislation to try to curb the private security industry, however the security firms are well connected in Government and widespread corruption in Government may make it difficult for any real controls to be imposed.
Many observers see South Africa at a real crossroads, and different scenarios may unfold for South Africa over the next decades.

One scenario is hopeful. The Government may recognise the crushing corruption and finally tackle this, which would boast South Africa’s economy and free resources to be spent on education and economic development. Internationally other countries would be more likely to invest in South Africa, bringing more money into the country and allowing more to be spent on social programmes. These may include education programmes, with more teachers, training and more equipment being given to schools, housing and healthcare programmes and programmes designed to bring people out of poverty. If this were to be achieved, South Africa would economically benefit and the country would prosper as more and more nations choose to invest there. 

To paint a bleaker view, South Africa could well be facing a path where things only become worse in the decades to come. Crime rates are so high and corruption so great that there is no ability of Government to create a real change. On most measures (poverty, corruption, education), South Africa is actually in decline  – in the gap between rich and poor, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. If this decline continues, there may come a point where the poor feel the need for action, and where demonstrations and unrest might threaten the stability of the country.
With the next election in 2014 and the ANC likely to again be returned to Government, it seems unlikely that the politicians will make any radical change for the better, and the further decline of South Africa seems likely. For the millions who voted for Nelson Mandela and his equality dream, whilst their respect for him and his incredible achievement remains as strong as ever, there is a growing feeling of being let down by politicians and of a huge missed opportunity.

With the median age of South Africa’s population now at just 25 years, fewer and fewer in this young country directly remember apartheid. Politicians today need to look to the spirit of the anti apartheid movement and the ability that that had to create change, in order to find a positive solution for this beautiful yet troubled country. 



1 comment:

  1. A great peice of writing packed with lots of intresting infomation about nelson mandela


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