Mandela had high hopes for the future of South Africa. He pledged to liberate all South Africans from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination. He also stressed that the beautiful land of South Africa would never ever experience racial discrimination again.
South Africa does have a thriving civil society. Its population knows its rights, and is not scared to demand that they be satisfied. There is opposition to corruption, and signs that the kleptocratic elements in the ANC may lead it to pay a costly electoral price in next years elections.
It is often said that the real miracle of Mandela was that he made us believe that history does not count, as if we could wipe away the damage of decades of apartheid. But history does count.
The brutality of apartheid ingrained violence in the lives of much of South Africa’s population. The iniquitous system of migrant labour forced fathers to leave their families in the rural areas for 48 weeks a year to work on the mines which enriched the elite. This led to a breakdown in social skills and commonly accepted norms among the young, and sewed the seeds of omnipresent violence.
The outlawing of civilized political processes undermined the growth of a democratic culture which allows differences to flourish and to be tolerated.
And, finally, the failure of the apartheid system to invest in education and training meant that many of those who moved into highly skilled jobs after transition lacked the experience and skills required to perform their new roles efficiently.
Many of these historical legacies were evident in other African nations which had been decolonized after the 1960s. It took two generations before a highly competent, educated and hardworking generation emerged to challenge the corruption and incompetence of their forebears.
Today, South Africa faces these same challenges. But if countries elsewhere on the continent are managing to overcome the legacy of colonialism, then there is hope for the future.
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