I came cross this awesome piece as I was googling today, something I do often. The article was titled Mandela’s freedom has been a dream, South Africa remains a nightmare and written by Dr. Boyce Watkins last year on the 11th February 2010 and published here.
That South African is celebrating Human Rights Day with the country’s President Jacob Zuma having his speech a few hours ago – it may be unexpected of me to be putting a writing/opinion of this kind on this day on my blog. But as we all know, someone has to do it.
Watkins wrote that:
In this Feb. 13, 1990 file photo, Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela give back power salutes as they enter Soweto’s Soccer City stadium, South Africa. 120,000 thousand people packed the venue to hear his speech. It’s been 20 amazing years.
Two decades since that fateful day when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. He’d been incarcerated for 27 years, long enough to transform from the middle-aged man who led a revolution to an experienced senior citizen who was destined to become an elder statesman. By staying in prison so long, Mandela gave away many of the most vital, precious years of his life, all to stand up for something greater than himself.
In spite of several offers for early release, Mandela chose to remain in prison until he was able to be released on his own terms. His spiritual commitment to the fight for freedom lifted him to the status of Ghandi, Martin Luther King and the Dalai Lama when it comes to infecting millions with the emotional fortitude necessary to withstand the horrific grip of oppression. Nelson Mandela made the world stronger and weakened enemies of freedom in the process.
But with the idealism of liberation comes to humdrum, and sometimes disappointing, reality of politics. The release of Nelson Mandela has been a dream, but some would argue that the state of the nation in the 20 years since his release has been just a bit short of a nightmare.
On the positive side, there is an unprecedented level of freedom and empowerment for the black people of South Africa: The African National Congress (ANC), Mandela’s political party, has dominated South African politics since Mandela’s release. Additionally, the nation has seen solid and consistent economic growth (excluding the recent recession). South Africa is the economic engine for the rest of the African continent and has been well-placed to mediate disputes within the region.
But there are other perspectives on this nation that don’t bode well for Nelson Mandela and the ANC. At the very least, it shows a picture of a nation that may have missed several opportunities to fulfill its great potential. South Africa continues to have chronic levels of unemployment, where nearly one quarter of its citizens cannot find work. This is especially true among the black majority, who’ve yet to fully experience the benefits of integration.
The South African Department of Health estimates that as many as 18 percent of the nation’s citizens and 28 percent of the pregnant women in South Africa are living with HIV. Much of this is due to the government’s stubborn unwillingness to honestly address the problem. Even Mandela’s own son died of AIDS, reminding us that the disease knows no social boundaries.
The country has an infant mortality rate that is roughly eight times higher than the average for most countries in the developed world. The United Nations Human Development Index for South Africa has dropped significantly since Mandela’s release, so the quality of life for many black South Africans does not appear to have improved very much. To add to the grim statistics, the latest estimates of the CIA World Factbook state that half of the country’s citizens live below the poverty line and life expectancy is less than 50 years old.
The shadow of apartheid is a difficult one to remove, as the students in the mostly black townships have a graduation rate that is slightly more than 50 percent of the number for white students. The schools in most of the black townships are less advanced and lack the resources necessary to prepare the youth for the future. The country has not yet made the advancements in education, economic development and other critical areas that were expected with the release of Mandela, but they are also learning that old habits die hard. So while it is easy to argue that South Africa is a country full of opportunity for some, it remains a haven of devastation for others. The new populist president, Jacob Zuma, has a mandate to create employment for the masses in South Africa, who are showing tremendous potential for unrest.
Overall, South Africa is better with Nelson Mandela being released from prison than it would have been had he remained incarcerated. One could argue that Mandela’s release was similar to the Obama effect: There was a huge emotional impact, but not nearly as much of a material influence as one might have hoped. Running a government is not easy, and the post-apartheid South Africa is learning from its mistakes.