By Gamal Nkrumah
Candles burn in front of a photo of late Nelson Mandela at Kilimani Primary School in Nairobi (photo: AP)
In the wake of the passing of former President Nelson Mandela, South Africans are praying that their country’s record of stability will continue, writes Gamal Nkrumah, son of Ghana’s ex-President Kwame Nkrumah.
This week’s passing of former South African president Nelson Mandela was a deeply unsettling experience for the African National Congress (ANC), the country’s ruling party.
Mandela was ailing and he had already achieved what some had felt to be impossible by laying the foundations for his party to be cosseted by impressive electoral majorities with or without his presence on the political stage.
In the aftermath of Mandela’s triumphant standing as the first democratically elected black African president of the country, the ANC basked in Mandela’s glory and proceeded to win successive landslides in elections. Yet, today the party’s grandees are caught up in a post-Mandela maelstrom.
Many indigenous black Africans are becoming increasingly restive, and they want the ANC to enforce, with or without white European settler approval, a radical policy of land redistribution.
Mandela exhibited an extraordinary capacity for magnanimity towards the country’s whites in his attempts at fostering reconciliation between the races, and he bent over backwards to accommodate the interests of the white colonialists and to allay their fears of an indigenous black backlash.
But today, blacks are beginning to look beyond the confines of the ANC for the fulfilment of their aspirations, and Mandela’s brand of racial reconciliation can no longer be taken for granted. Mandela brokered power-sharing arrangements between whites and non-whites in South Africa, but economic emancipation for the bulk of the black population continues to be as elusive as ever.
In economic terms, Mandela’s legacy has been disappointing, and the vexing question of land ownership and property rights remains one of the most pressing issues facing South Africa.
Property rights in the country are inextricably intertwined with political questions, in particular in rural areas, and it is therefore little wonder that Mandela’s mortal remains are to be buried in his remote home village of Qunu in Eastern Cape Province, one of South Africa’s poorest and least developed areas.
Despite Mandela’s astounding political achievements, economic challenges still simmer, and political disgruntlements and discontents brew. While the post-apartheid South African constitutional dispensation is characterised by parliamentary sovereignty, Mandela and his successors turned a blind eye to the disquieting trend that power has been effectively shifting from the legislature to the executive.
The ramifications of this shift have given the ANC a crucial opportunity for it to consolidate its hold on South Africa’s political establishment. Moreover, a substantially different set of constitutional principles are now in force, marking a departure from previous dispensations.
The electoral system shifted after the constitutional settlement that defined the political parameters of post-apartheid South Africa from a modified single-member Westminster system of voting to a system based on proportional representation. Because of its racial diversity, the multi-racial Rainbow Nation may have felt that it had few other options.
Services to mark Mandela’s passing began on Tuesday with a major memorial at the FNB Stadium. Located on the edge of Soweto, the Stadium was the place where Mandela made his last public appearance at the World Cup Final, held in South Africa in July 2010.
The memorial, lasting four hours, included tributes by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. South African President Jacob Zuma gave a keynote address.
The funeral saw heads of state and celebrities such as Obama, former US presidents Clinton and Bush, Britain’s prince Charles, and US television host Oprah Winfrey all travelling to remote Qunu. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an ANC sharpshooter who has called the ruling party a byword for cronyism, officiated over the funeral service.
The South African legislature held a special sitting of the two houses of parliament on Monday, with lawmakers paying special tribute to Mandela. South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, a member of the ANC, inaugurated the proceedings with a speech describing how the iconic figure’s passing had prompted a “sweeping feeling of sorrow” across the globe.
Meanwhile, initiatives for black advancement in South Africa are often met with derision by the country’s white European settler economic elite, and black government officials are sadly not always in a position to help their black compatriots.
While the oppressive apartheid laws are now a nightmare of the past, when Zuma runs again for the country’s top job in the 2014 presidential contest, he may be obliged to draw inspiration from Mandela and struggle to reconcile militants and pragmatists within the ANC, so far a seemingly insurmountable task.
Retrospection and introspection, notwithstanding, the battle for a reinvigorated, more equitable South Africa has only just commenced with the passing of Mandela.
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