Are we living up to Madiba's legacy?
The stature of Nelson Mandela is such that during his presidency, a former SABC journalist wrote a book called When Mandela Goes. It was a bestseller, even though most of its gloomy prognostications have not come to light. The title demonstrated the esteem in which Madiba was held then, the subtext of the title was that without him South Africa would not hold together as a nation in which citizens of vastly different backgrounds, histories and outlooks would hold together. On the first anniversary of the start of our life without him, it is important to examine how we are doing. Bluntly, are we living up to his legacy?
The first test of how we are doing is whether in fact we are still here, or have we somehow managed to blow up the country. Obviously, we have passed this first test. Madiba may be gone, but our life as a nation goes on. In the months since he left us, we held peaceful elections (even if the voting was more peaceful than our Parliament), children went to school, adults went to work (but many had no work to get out of bed for) and generally speaking, the country is almost as it was with him.
This points to a very salient fact. As Professor Steven Friedman once pointed out, it seems illogical to suggest that people are going to change their behaviour, political or otherwise, just because someone who has been largely absent from our national stage for a decade passed on.
The voting figures in the May elections show this. There was no big surge towards the ANC out of respect for Madiba, and there was no big pull-away from the party either. The final election results were pretty much as had been predicted before he died. This shows that we have also passed the test of remaining a democracy after Mandela.
Despite Madiba's absence from the political front-lines since roughly 1999, his legacy is still a powerful tool for politicians. The ANC has reminded us all from time to time that Mandela was their leader, he came from them, and yet was also greater than the party in his own way. Clearly it is important to Luthuli House to make sure that people remember this. The number of Nelson Mandela T-shirts used during the elections is proof of their belief in its power.
Opposition parties are well aware of this too. The DA has also tried to wrest this legacy away, by claiming that the 'ANC of Nelson Mandela', and 'Jacob Zuma's ANC' are very different entities. So far, 62% of South African voters are not buying that message. But we are likely to see this campaign continuing, just this week DA leader Helen Zille spoke about his legacy in a way that would appear to be calculated to benefit her party.
Of course, the reason for the power of his legacy lies in his role in our creation myth. All nations have creation myths, stories that we all accept as true, even though some of the facts may be in dispute from time to time. Perhaps the main creation myth of our nation is that after Apartheid everyone would be treated equally. We know from the life outcomes of black and white people that that is simply not true. The easiest way to die rich in South Africa is to have been born white. Apartheid, in its economic form, is still with us, and is likely to be so for at least another generation (and more likely two or three).
This has led to a questioning about whether Madiba somehow sold out to the whites. The question is often posed by younger people, who may have forgotten that in the Constitutional negotiations, the whites (who were perhaps negotiating as a bloc then, in a way that is impossible to imagine now) had a much stronger negotiating position than they do now. And Madiba (and Cyril Ramaphosa who led the ANC's negotiating team), as one of the best political operators of his age, would have known that FW de Klerk would never have been able to convince his constituency to give up their property. If Madiba wanted political freedom for his people, FW's people would have to be allowed to keep their swimming pools.
As a result, Madiba probably got the best result he could have hoped for. It's hard to imagine what kind of deal could have been struck at the time that would have led to a much better economic situation for the majority of the country now.
The real reason for the questioning of Mandela's legacy is probably that our economy has not grown in a way that has provided jobs for the people who need them. And that is a much bigger issue than just questioning the role he played during negotiations.
The reality is that racial reconciliation was Madiba's main priority, without it, nobody's position would improve. Figures out this week from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation's Reconciliation Barometer show that we all need to work harder on this. This is true for whites far more than anyone else. It is they who still live in largely segregated communities, it is mostly white people who are the aggressors in racial incidents rather than black people. While certainly the behaviour of those who urinate on black people is not reflective of white people in general, claims that only 53% of white South Africans believe Apartheid was a crime against humanity is evidence that it is this community that is failing to live up to Madiba's dream.
When the history of 2014 in South Africa is written, it will be remembered for many things. The ANC winning elections, Nkandla, Parliament, the National Key Points Act, the continued melt-down at the SABC, the rise of the EFF, the violent death of Senzo Miyewa, we could go on. It is, strangely, unlikely to be remembered as the "First Year without Nelson Mandela". Rather, it is going to be remembered as another year on the road towards the vision that he had, of a nation that "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world."
It seems unlikely that he would be proud of all of us. But hopefully, he would think we have taken another step down the road to that land.
_Stephen Grootes is host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk, and the senior political correspondent for Eyewitness News. Follow him on _ Twitter: @StephenGrootes