The South African democracy is recognised as the example of political transformation and reconciliation in the world. The political success story had much to do with the dream and leadership of Nelson Mandela.
Before his sentence in court he said, ” During my life time I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination I cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
After his release from prison 25 years later Nelson Mandela became the first democratic elected president of South Africa. His dream to create a non-racial democratic South Africa was more than a political ideal, it was a personal crusade.
After loosing their political control of South Africa to the ANC, the white population and especially the Afrikaner feared retribution and black domination. But Nelson Mandela never relegated his dream – he lived his ideal of racial integration and reconciliation.
In 1995 South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup. Mandela recognised the fanatical importance of the sport to the white population and saw the event as an opportunity to bring the nation together. The seriousness of his belief in racial harmony as a cornerstone of democracy was evident to all. Although blacks at the time considered rugby to be the sport of white people, Mandela viewed the event as a nation building opportunity. He considered the task of uniting black and white as a nation behind the Springbok’s campaign of such importance that he involved himself personally. He refused calls to replace the Springbok as the national rugby emblem and met with the team on several occasions during their preparation.
Leading by example Mandela had managed to gain the support of the entire nation to rally behind the Springboks. We subsequently won the 1995 Rugby World Cup and on the podium to receive the trophy was Springbok captain Francois Pienaar and President Mandela dressed in a Springbok jersey and cap. Mandela was overjoyed, not as a politician but as a South African. The crowd was ecstatic with the victory and gave the president a standing ovation with cries of Nelson, Nelson. The former tension between black and white was broken due to the vision and personal involvement of a true leader. The white population accepted Mandela’s leadership, respected him as a man and trusted him with their future. Throughout his term as president, Mandela actively continued his efforts to unite the different ethnic groups in South Africa into one nation, but 20 years later, racial unity and harmony in South Africa is just a little more than skin deep. Mainly because the politicians had failed the dream of Nelson Mandela by not pursuing nation building.
Since the Mandela era little or nothing was done by the government to protect and promote racial unity. Instead, political parties often use race as a means to gain support. And even after 20 years of democracy apartheid is still blamed for the failure of today’s politicians. Although you do find pockets of racial unity in our society, South Africa today is nothing more than a racial democracy.
Healthy race relations are more prevalent in the upper and middle class minority within the bigger cities. The racial harmony in this sector is not the result of government’s efforts of nation building, but is a product of having gone to similar schools, universities and sharing like-minded career and financial goals. You find similar unity in smaller rural towns where black and white share common goals of improving their community.
South Africa”s non racial society is small by comparison and based on good inter personal relationships. The majority of black citizens live in the townships and informal settlements on the outskirts of our cities and have little in common with white people or the political elite and the black middle class. They see the whites as the custodians of wealth, and the black government as their only hope to provide them with whatever they are lacking. Political parties take advantage of this situation and play the race card for their own benefit.
Nelson Mandela’s dream of a non-racial South Africa has not been achieved by any stretch of the imagination. In the struggle for political power, nation building has fallen by the wayside. Some segments of society enjoy racial harmony and integration, but for now Mandela’s dream is on the back burner because there is no leader to champion the cause.