Ten years after Nelson Mandela’s death, statues continue to be erected in his honor in South Africa.
In July there were two, in the Qunu region, the village where he was born and buried: one wearing a suit and tie, as head of state, and the other in ancestral clothing, as a tribal leader.
“These statues should serve as a reminder to us, who were elected to serve the South African people, that we need to redouble our efforts to build a better South Africa, which leaves no one behind,” President Cyril said at the time. Ramaphosa.
Unpopular, he could be sending himself a message. For the first time since the end of apartheid in 1994, the African National Congress (ANC), the party of Mandela and the current president, is at serious risk of being defeated in elections next year.
If Mandela walked through the South African metropolises, rural areas and townships (slums) today, he would see a country very far from the “rainbow nation” he idealized, in which the emphasis was on racial harmony.
Since his death at age 95 on December 5, 2013, there have been improvements in some social indicators but a sharp deterioration in the economy. More seriously, rates of violence, tribal conflicts and xenophobia have exploded in a decade.
“There was already a decline in the country before his death, which has now worsened and become exponential, at all levels. Society has become more tribal, people have closed themselves into their communities and ethnic groups”, says William Gumede, professor of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, and author of several books on Mandela and the ANC.
This effect manifested itself, for example, in a wave of protests in 2021 over the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma, a Zulu, the country’s largest ethnic group. It also occurs sporadically in xenophobic demonstrations, aimed at workers from other African countries.
An openly anti-immigration party, Action SA, emerged in 2020 and won 90 council seats in municipal elections the following year. Nationally, it received just 2.34% of the vote, but introduced the seed of a radical right platform into the South African political scene.
As in every social crisis, the substrate is economic. Unemployment today is 31.9%, higher than the already high rate of 24.1% at Mandela’s death. Among young people, it exceeds 50%.
More impressive is the country’s shrinkage in ten years. Its GDP was US$401 billion in 2013, compared to US$381 billion today, a decline of 4.9%. This in a context of population growth of around 20% in the period.
Always a persistent problem in South Africa, violence is on the rise again after declining sharply in the first decade of this century. In 2023, 27,494 people were murdered from January to November, a record, and an increase of 61.5% over 2013.
In the social area, some indicators bring encouragement to the general picture and will give the government some impetus to try to stay in power next year.
Schooling for 5-year-old children has increased and is now close to universalization. There were also advances in the number of people living in formal houses and in access to running water and electricity (despite frequent blackouts).
They do not, however, change the general picture of hopelessness shown by a 2022 survey by the Human Sciences Research Council, a local research institute.
In 2004, 63% of South Africans were satisfied with democracy. Ten years later, shortly after Mandela’s death, the rate had plummeted to 37%. In 2021, the most recent data, it fell even further, to just 26%, against 50% of dissatisfied people.
Although he is still considered the “father of the nation” by the majority of the population, Mandela has not been spared criticism, especially by younger people, who did not experience the apartheid regime.
In the eyes of this generation, the leader’s sin would be precisely the characteristic that led him to be idolized globally during his lifetime, the ability to extend a helping hand to former oppressors.
“Many say that Mandela accommodated white interests too much in the transition to racial democracy, that he should have been less conciliatory, and that we are now paying the price for this attitude,” says Gumede. “They don’t see that the problem is that the government has failed in recent years to manage the country correctly.”
With less than six months to go before the election, the ANC finds itself on the threshold of falling below the threshold of 50% of the votes for the first time, which would force it to govern in coalition.
The party finds itself besieged on the left by a party popular among unemployed youth, the Economic Freedom Warriors, and on the center by the Democratic Alliance, which has membership among white and mixed-race minorities and has built a reputation for efficiency in the local governments it administers. .
Without much to show at present, the CNA is left to seek electoral strength in its history, which is confused with Mandela’s. “The campaign will use Mandela’s image a lot. He is still an important asset, although not as big as in the past,” says Gumede.