Ten years after the death of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president, many young people are disillusioned with his legacy and his party.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president, hovers over his country’s history.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
When he died on this day 10 years ago at the age of 95, he was known around the world as a visionary leader. And at home in South Africa, he was often called by his clan name, Madiba, as a sign of affection and respect. But the legacy of the man who helped lead the nation from the shadow of apartheid is still debated.
INSKEEP: Kate Bartlett is following this debate from Johannesburg. To welcome.
KATE BARTLETT, BYLINE: Hello, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK, so this is happening in the United States. Historical figures look different across generations. We look at different aspects of their lives. So what’s going on with Nelson Mandela’s legacy?
BARTLETT: For most people, I would say he’s still generally revered. But there is a small, vocal group, mostly people on college campuses, young people who are calling him a sellout. Hard to believe after spending 27 years of his life in prison for one cause, black liberation, and achieving that cause. But they say he should have done more after the end of apartheid to increase the economic clout of blacks in South Africa and was too keen to be conciliatory. Of course, his supporters point out that he did this to avoid a civil war. Most people I’ve spoken to while telling the story are grateful that Mandela brought them freedom, but angry at the way politicians then squandered the opportunities they had to improve their lives. They are angry about huge unemployment rates, an electricity crisis that leads to almost daily power outages, and constant news reports of government corruption.
INSKEEP: Oh, they think about what happened after the liberation. And does part of the blame lie with Mandela’s party, the African National Congress?
BARTLETT: Absolutely. I would say his once famous ANC is definitely in trouble. The ANC, as you know, has been in power since the end of apartheid and enjoys immense popularity as a liberation party. But analysts now predict she will be punished in next year’s elections. And many blame former President Jacob Zuma, who was one of Mandela’s successors, for this, because under his leadership widespread corruption occurred. The election of the current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has sparked immense hope. He promised to clean up. But he disappointed many people because of his slow action and prioritizing party over country. Of course, the ANC continues to exploit Mandela’s legacy for its own electoral benefit…
INSKEEP: Of course.
BARTLETT: …Like almost every other political party in South Africa, everyone is asking: what would Mandela do? Judge Malala, South African author of the book “The Plot To Save South Africa” -, according to him, the ANC is now considered a party, as he says, of dishonesty and corruption.
JUSTICE MALALA: Many in South Africa view the ANC as the antithesis of Mandela. No matter how much the party tries to burnish its name using Mandela’s image, the public simply no longer believes it.
BARTLETT: The real test will come in next year’s general election. It will be 30 years since the first democratic vote. And many polls predict that the ANC will lose its majority for the first time and will have to enter a coalition government.
INSKEEP: Is daily life better 30 years after the end of apartheid?
BARTLETT: Well, that’s a nuanced question. Many South Africans still live in extreme poverty. Money lost to corruption could have improved the lives of millions of people. But ultimately, all adult South Africans now have the right to vote and can vote against their government. And they are equal before the law, regardless of their race. So, in that sense, yes, it’s a resounding yes.
INSKEEP: Kate Bartlett in Johannesburg, thank you very much.
BARTLETT: Thanks, Steve.
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