The Man behind the Myth

Image Courtesy of Mail & Guardian

Thousands of South Africans and various political leaders came together this week to commemorate the late Nelson Mandela. Mandela, the first democratically elected President of South Africa, is known as one of the most influential and inspiring leaders this world has seen so far. In a few words, his dedication was stunning (twenty-seven years in jail, mostly on Robben Island), his leadership respectable, and his persona charismatic. It therefore comes as no surprise that presidents Barack Obama, Dilma Rousseff, Pranab Mukherjee and Raul Castro (to name a few) will be speaking alongside South African President Jacob Zuma at a stadium in Johannesburg to honor the icon.

So where does the myth come from? Often compared to Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., Mandela was and will continue to be a symbol of liberty and equality for millions across the globe. But just as some criticized Gandhi for his practice of Satyagraha, many also questioned the anti-apartheid leader’s national reconciliation strategy. Most, though, see Mandela as a founding father, the leader who brought a wrecked country out of the darkness and into the light. Even though he only served one presidential five-year term, from 1994 to 1999, his contribution was immense to say the least.

While it is crucial to acknowledge Mandela’s many achievements, it is also important to consider the struggles that his beloved homeland currently faces. A lot has changed since Mandela’s rule, but a lot has stayed the same in Post-Apartheid South Africa. For example, the country demonstrates exorbitantly high levels of sexual assault and rape. Rape is one of the most under-reported crimes in the nation, but it is not the only one. As of now, South Africa is not known for its immeasurable progress or growth, but for its murder capitals. The innumerable crimes can partly be explained by normalization of violence and poverty.

Behind the statistics, there is even more: a broken country facing social, economic and political hardship. While the rest of sub-Saharan Africa is growing economically internationally and at home, South Africa is lagging behind. Domestically, citizens face high rates of unemployment. Regionally, companies lose exports to competitors such as China. Moreover, the leader of the still deeply unequal society is President Zuma, a man shadowed by allegations of corruption and scandal.

This week, Nelson Mandela teaches us many lessons. Amongst them is the power of forgiving without forgetting. Ultimately, the legendary politician would not be content with his country’s current state of affairs. Although he is not here any longer, he serves as a reminder that South Africa deserves and should strive for more. If anything, he leaves us with the belief, or at least the hope, that the sacrifice, the walk to freedom, and the fight will eventually be worth it and bring justice.

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